The universe of specific phobias is almost endless. Let’s say that we could describe as many specific phobias as there are people in the world, the result of individual variability, which is why in nosological textbooks only the most common appear.
For example, we can find people who are afraid of humans (anthropophobia), beards (pogonophobia), stairs (batmophobia), flowers (anthropophobia), dust and dirt (amatophobia) and many others. others, being those rare phobias.
In this article, we will talk about a relatively common type of specific phobia, which can be classified as animal phobias: musophobia.
What is musophobia?
DSM-IV-TR and DSM-5 distinguish different types of specific phobias (APA, 2000, 2013):
- Animal: Fear is caused by one or more types of animals. The most feared animals are generally snakes, spiders, insects, cats, rats, mice and birds (Antony and Barlow, 1997).
- Natural environment: storms, wind, water, darkness.
- Blood / injections / bodily injury (SID).
- situational: Take public transport, tunnels, bridges, elevators, fly by plane …
- Another type: situations that can lead to drowning or vomiting, fear of people in disguise …
Thus, musophobia would consist of intense and persistent fear or anxiety. it is triggered by the presence of mice or rodents in general and / or the anticipation of the same. According to DSM-5, the anxiety must be disproportionate to the danger or threat of the situation and to the socio-cultural context. In addition, the phobia must last at least 6 months.
Symptoms of this phobia
People with musophobia are particularly afraid of mouse movements, especially if they are sudden; they may also fear their physical appearance, the sounds they make and their tactile properties.
One of the determining psychological elements of musophobia in people who suffer from it is that it appears both a disproportionate fear reaction (Focusing on the perceived danger) and a feeling of disgust or loathing.
Although studies provide conflicting data, the fear response seems to predominate over the disgust response. In addition, both reactions are reduced with live exposure, as we will see in the Treatment section.
To protect themselves from unexpected encounters, people with musophobia can adopt various defensive behaviors: over-check places to make sure there are no mice nearby or have others do it, wear overprotective clothing when walking in the countryside, be accompanied by a trusted person, and stay away from a spotted mouse.
Age of onset and prevalence
In epidemiological studies with adults, the average age of onset is 8 to 9 years for animal phobia. There is no record of epidemiological data relating to musophobia.
Considering the different types of EF, the life-prevalence data obtained in the National Epidemiological Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions (Stinson et al., 2007) were: natural environment (5.9%), situational ( 5.2%), animal (4.7%) and SID (4.0%).
Causes (genesis and maintenance)
How does a person develop musophobia? Why do some children develop this fear? These questions can be answered following Barlow (2002), who differentiates between three types of determining factors in order to develop a specific phobia such as musophobia:
1. Biological vulnerability
It is a genetically determined neurobiological hypersensitivity to stress and includes character traits that have a strong genetic component. Among the main ones are neuroticism, introversion, negative affectivity (a stable and hereditary tendency to experience a wide range of negative feelings) and behavioral inhibition in the face of the unknown.
2. Generalized psychological vulnerability
It is the perception, based on early experiences, that stressful situations and / or reactions to them are unpredictable and / or uncontrollable. Among the first experiences are the overprotective educational style (hypercontroller), rejection by parents, insecure bonds of affectionOccurrence of traumatic events coexisting with ineffective strategies for coping with stress.
3. Specific psychological vulnerability
It is based on the person’s learning experiences. Anxiety resulting from generalized biological and psychological vulnerability focuses on certain situations or events (eg, mice), which come to be viewed as a threat or even dangerous. For example, a direct negative experience with a mouse in childhood this can generate a learning experience that the animal is threatening and dangerous.
Psychological treatment of musophobia
Although it has been claimed that phobic fears can go away without treatment during childhood and adolescence, the general trend does not appear to be the same.
The most effective and well-known treatment is cognitive behavioral treatment with live exposure (EV). Before starting EV, it is advisable to give information about mice and correct any misconceptions about them.
A hierarchy of exposures should also be made, taking into account the person’s subjective levels of anxiety. Some ideas for working with dreaded and / or avoided situations: talking about animals, looking at photos or videos of mice, going to pet stores where there are mice, touching and stroking mice and feeding them … Another option is use the exhibition through virtual reality.
Participatory modeling to treat musophobia
EV can be used alone or combined with modeling, with the so-called participatory modeling procedure; this combination has been very useful in the treatment of animal-type phobias.
At each step in the hierarchy, the therapist or other model (s) repeatedly or at length illustrate the relevant activity, explain, if necessary, how to perform the activity and provide information on the feared objects or situations ( in our case, on mice).
After modeling a task, the therapist asks the client to perform it and it provides you with social reinforcement for your progress and corrective feedback.
If the person has difficulty or does not dare to perform the task, various aids are provided. For example, in the case of musophobia, we could cite: joint action with the therapist, limitation of mouse movements, means of protection (Gloves), reduction of the time required for the task, increase in the distance to the feared object, re-modeling of the threatening activity, use of multiple models, company with loved ones or pets.
These aids are withdrawn until the client is able to complete the task with relative peace of mind and of himself (self-directed practice); therefore, the therapist should not be present. Self-directed practice should take place in a variety of contexts to promote generalization.