Chiroptophobia (fear of bats): symptoms, causes and treatment

Chiroptophobia is the persistent and intense fear of bats. It is a type-specific phobia that, as such, can be a major trigger for anxiety responses and even panic attacks. This is a rare fear linked to the transmission of threatening information about this animal species.

Below we will see the main features of chiroptophobia along with its possible causes and treatment.

    Chiroptophobia: fear of bats

    The word “chiroptère” (bat) is made up of the Greek “cheir”, which means “hand”, and the term “pteron”, which means wings. This is the formal way of calling mammals that develop wings on their limbs, which we call “bats”. In turn, the word “chiroptophobia” is made up of the same Greek words followed by the term “phobos” which refers to fear or fear. In this sense, chiroptophobia is the term that refers to the fear of bats.

    When it manifests itself in the presence of a specific animal, chiroptophobia it is considered a specific type of phobia. However, this is not a common phobia. Animal-specific phobias occur more commonly in snakes, spiders, mice or rats, some insects, and birds.

    In this type of phobia, the fear is usually not about potential harm. In other words, that is to say people recognize that the animal does not present a significant danger to its physical integrity. However, this recognition does not reduce the anxiety response, as the fear is generated by the physical characteristics of the animal.

    More precisely, fear is related to the movement produced by the animal, especially if it is difficult to anticipate movements (for example a sudden beat), which in the case of chiroptophobia is very obvious. Fear is also caused by the physical appearance of animals, which can be linked to negative stereotypes about them and with sensations such as disgust.

    Likewise, in the case of small animals that can evoke a perceived danger (eg snakes), fear is the primary reaction and disgust is the secondary reaction. The opposite occurs in the case of, for example, rats, mice and penalized rats. Finally, fear is linked to the sounds they produce and to the tactile sensations that animals generate in human contact.

      main symptoms

      As with other phobias, chiroptophobia triggers an immediate anxiety response. The latter may occur in the face of direct exposure with the stimulus, or in the face of the possibility or anticipation of exposure. Due to the activation of the autonomic nervous system (the task of regulating our involuntary movements), the most common response is a picture of anxiety which includes sweating, decreased gastrointestinal activity, hyperventilation, rapid heart rate and sometimes a panic attack.

      There may also be a fear of one’s own symptoms or the onset of a panic attack. Likewise, there can be a social component: a lot of people feel intimidated by this. the possibility of making a fool of yourself when other people notice the reaction.

      Animal-specific phobias usually start in childhood (before the age of 12), but not necessarily, and occur more frequently in women.

      Possible causes

      One of the main hypotheses on the causes of specific phobias is that they arise from basic fears common to the human species, generated by phylogenetic evolution. This same hypothesis maintains that the most common phobic fears are situational in nature, in the natural environment, in diseases and finally in animals.

      Similarly, phobia in animals is often explained by the theory of biological preparation, which says that a stimulus is more likely to become phobic when it poses a threat to the survival of the species. This would include the fear of attacks by different animals.

      On the other hand, phobias in animals are generally explained by the socio-cultural variables that surround our interaction with them, as well as by early knowledge of the danger and possible threats.

      In other words, the expectation of fear has to do with the transmission of threatening information, which refers to the warnings received about the danger of the stimulus.

      Thus, chiroptophobia can also be generated with the negative connotations associated with bats. In this sense, it should be noted that, contrary to popular belief, out of the 1,100 existing bat species, only 3 feed on blood. The vast majority feed on insects and fruits, and in some cases small vertebrates. Likewise, they are an important species for pest control and seed dispersal.

      Finally, as with other phobias, one of the main causes is previous negative experiences with the phobic stimulus (In this case with bats). These experiences may have been direct or indirect and are potential triggers when they correspond to the previously acquired expectation of danger. Fear expectations are also heightened by not having had positive experiences with the same stimulus.

      psychological treatment

      There are different psychological techniques that can modify fears transformed into phobias, as well as reduce the anxiety response. One of the most used in the case of animal-specific phobias is live exhibition technique and some imaginary exhibition techniques. Both have effects such as fear reduction, avoidance behaviors, and negative assessment of the stimulus that causes both phobia and repulsion.

      In combination with the above, participatory modeling or observational learning is used, which is a form of accompaniment in which the person observes the behavior of others and tries to imitate them. At the same time, he receives feedback on physical and verbal or behavioral responses.

      The problem specifically with phobias in animals, such as chiroptophobia, is the difficulty of being exposed live in their natural environment. Faced with this, virtual reality exposure techniques, imaginative exposure techniques and systematic desensitization were generated.

      Bibliographical references:

      • Bados, A. (2005). Specific phobias. Faculty of Psychology. Department of Personality, Psychological Assessment and Treatment. University of Barcelona. Accessed October 8, 2018.Available at http://diposit.ub.edu/dspace/bitstream/2445/360/1/113.pdf.

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