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The Quad: UCLA students discuss zoophobia, its effect on their lives

Bruins discuss dealing with Zoophobia, the fear of certain animals. (Daily Bruin file photo)

By Sonia Wong

Oct. 9, 2022 9:18 p.m.

While some Bruins may freeze at the sight of a spider, spider-keeping videos on Youtube may fascinate others.

According to Cleveland Clinic, zoophobia is a fear of all or specific animals. This anxiety disorder may trigger intense fears, even when there may not be an actual threat.

Second-year computer science student Michelle Kim said she has felt fearful of spiders since a young age.

“I would say my main fear is of insects or arachnids – spiders, specifically. I don’t like any animal that has a lot of legs,” Kim said. “I think that has been a fear ever since I was pretty small. … It’s persisted up until now.”

For some Bruins, zoophobia may also cultivate a sense of unease.

Second-year molecular, cell and developmental biology student Jaylin Hsu said he associates snakes and scorpions with poison and venom, which stirs up discomfort for him.

“I’m scared of snakes and scorpions mainly,” Hsu said. “Like when you think of snakes, … venom, poison just kind of pops into my mind.”

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 9.1% of adults in the United States have a specific phobia in their lives, with zoophobia being one of the most common specific phobias.

Psychology professor Avishek Adhikari said prior experiences and historical background could contribute to the nature of phobias.

“They can arise due to both prior experiences or they can be somewhat uncoupled from prior experiences,” Adhikari said. “And among those, we can see that it’s things that have been historically more dangerous to people. … For example, it’s much more common for people to be afraid of spiders and snakes.”

However, second-year economics and statistics student Agastya Rao said he has more trouble warming up to less commonly feared animals, such as puppies, compared to insects or reptiles.

“I’m definitely scared of most animals, and (they) tend to be mammals actually, which is interesting,” Rao said. “I’m not as scared of things like insects and reptiles though, which is really interesting because a lot of people might find they have irrational fears of insects, for example – but for me, that doesn’t really affect me.”

Sociology professor Jessica Collett said that our fears could also come from ideas or meanings we attribute to particular animals, rather than our conscious memories.

“Part of this phobia is that we maybe don’t remember where it came from,” Collett said. “They are rooted in the meanings that we ascribe to particular objects.”

Rao added that when certain animals approach him, he experiences an intense physical reaction. A possible explanation for such responses may be our feelings of unpreparedness when an animal moves toward us.

Collett said individuals may overthink responses to react to animals approaching us in a similar fashion to the manner in which we behave when we encounter other people.

“If there’s just something that’s passive and you’re not interacting with it, then you don’t have to think through that interaction,” Collett said. “But sociologists believe that, you know, every time that we’re around people, whether we’re conscious of it or not, we’re thinking about how we would interact with them.”

However, exposure therapy involving interactions with animals could prove effective in minimizing these fears. Adhikari added that voluntary controlled exposure and talking about fears can be helpful.

“It’s always safer with the accompaniment of a therapist that is well-trained in these sorts of approaches,” Adhikari said. “But that is what they will do, when in or during the therapy is kind of talk about it, and then try to gradually increase the exposure to whatever it is that is a scary thing.”

According to a report published in the Advances in Economics, Business and Management Research Journal, 90% of people who accepted exposure therapy for phobias agree that it is an effective method of treatment.

Hsu said encountering a snake has helped him work around his fears, mirroring this idea of exposure therapy.

“I think it was back in maybe second or third grade, … we would have like seven or eight kids lined up and holding that big snake, and I was one of those kids,” Hsu said. “But I kind of got over my fear of being close to snakes, kind of touching them, and so yeah, they definitely helped calm down my fear a little bit.”

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Sonia Wong
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