Fear vs Phobia: Difference and Comparison

Several emotions have overlapping meanings and are classified under one branch of emotions. This creates confusion, and becomes difficult to distinguish the emotion. Two such common emotions are fear and phobia.

Both emotions are related to anxiety but have distinct differences between them.

Key Takeaways

  1. Fear is a natural response to a perceived threat, while a phobia is an irrational, excessive fear of a specific object, situation, or activity.
  2. Phobias can interfere with daily life and cause significant distress, while fears are manageable.
  3. Treatment for phobias involves exposure therapy, whereas managing fear may not require professional intervention.

Fear vs Phobia

Fear is a natural emotion that arises in response to a perceived threat and an adaptive response that helps us survive by triggering a “fight or flight” response. A phobia is an excessive and irrational fear of a particular object, situation, or activity that poses little or no actual danger.

Fear vs Phobia

Fear is a natural and universal emotion. It is protective against any potential threat. Fear causes a stimulus of anticipation or risk that may be involved in the present or future.

Fear can be experienced in two major categories: avoidance or flight and immobility.

While a phobia is a disorder of anxiety that is caused due to excessive and persistent fear about a situation or an object, the severity and intensity of phobias differ among individuals. Phobias are also classified as an irrational fear.

Comparison Table

Parameters of ComparisonFearPhobia
EtymologyFear is associated with the word danger Phobia is associated with the word terror
TypesFear can be divided into two major types – innate fear and learned fear Phobia can be further divided into three types specific phobia, social phobia, and agoraphobia
RationalityIt can be rational or irrational It is unreasonable and irrational fear
Response or symptoms Fear can lead to responses like confrontation, escape, avoid, horror, or freeze response which is known as paralysis Powerlessness, dizziness, panic attacks, persistent fear
DefinitionIt is an emotion that is caused due to a trigger of imminent threat or dangerIt is excessive fear or anxiety about a specific situation or object which may or may not pose a danger

What is Fear?

Fear is an unpleasant emotion that is caused due to a trigger of threat or danger. The emotion can be very intense and cause psychological changes.

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It may also cause a change in behavioural responses, such as aggression or fleeing from the trigger of a threat. Fear causes a stimulus of anticipation or risk that may be involved in the present or future.

Fear can lead to responses like confrontation, escape, avoidance, horror, or freeze response, known as paralysis. Emotion is modulated by cognition and learning. So the emotion can be rational or irrational depending upon the cause.

Fear is considered as the antonym of courage, which is declared as incorrect by various scholars.

Fear is categorized as the occurrence of a fight or flight response. It is an innate response to cope with danger.

The response can increase muscle tension, and heart rate, cause vasoconstriction, and even piloerection, commonly known as goosebumps. Fear can be divided into two major types: innate and learned.

The behaviour of fear can vary for every species but is mainly experienced in two major categories: avoidance or flight and immobility. In humans, the part of the brain involved in deciphering fear is the amygdala.

It further communicates between the prefrontal cortex, hippocampus, hypothalamus, thalamus, sensory cortex, septum, and brainstem.

fear

What is Phobia?

Phobia refers to a disorder of anxiety that is caused due to excessive and persistent fear about a situation or an object. The term phobia is derived from the Greek word “photos”, which signifies fear, aversion, or even morbid fear.

Different phobias are irregularly named using Latin prefixes. Phobias can also imply hatred or dislike towards something and not fear. Examples – Chemophobia, Xenophobia, Islamophobia, and even Homophobia.

Phobia can be divided into three types: specific, social, and agoraphobia. Specific phobias are caused due to certain natural environment situations, animals, injury, blood, or any particular situation.

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It can also be related to a negative childhood experience with a situation or object. Social phobia is caused due to fear about a situation and worrying that others would judge the person.

Agarophobia is induced due to fear of a situation that is difficult to escape from.

Various medications and treatments are prescribed for every particular type of phobia. Specific phobias are treated with exposure therapy, and medications are not quite useful.

While social phobia and agoraphobia can be treated with a combination of counselling and medications, the medications that are used are antidepressants, benzodiazepines, and beta-blockers.

The treatments which are used in phobias are exposure therapy, medications, and counselling. Phobias can increase the rate of suicide. The severity and intensity of phobias differ among individuals.

Phobias are also classified as an irrational fear. Phobias are most prevalent among the age group of 10 to 14. The onset of phobia can be rapid and can last for ages. The phobia can cause fainting, panic attacks, injury, or even paralysis.

phobia

Main Differences Between Fear and Phobia

  1. Fear is a natural and normal emotional response that forms a protective part, while a phobia is an excessive, irrational fear and is not normal.
  2. The cause of fear can be an imminent threat or danger, while the cause of phobia can be childhood trauma, genetic reasons, dysfunction in the brain circuits, or other unknown reasons.
  3. Fear is not a type of anxiety disorder, while phobia is a type of anxiety disorder.
  4. Fear does not require diagnosis or treatment, while phobia may require a diagnosis or treatment.
  5. Fear does not occur when the source of threat or danger is not present, while phobia persists even when the source is not around and can last for months.
Difference Between Fear and Phobia
References
  1. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/0010440X69900224
  2. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1600-0722.2008.00602.x

Last Updated : 13 July, 2023

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8 thoughts on “Fear vs Phobia: Difference and Comparison”

  1. The difference between fear and phobia has never been so clearly explained. I am very impressed with this article.

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