​Fear Of The Dark (scotophobia): What It Is And How To Overcome It

“Fear of the Dark” is not only the title of an Iron Maiden song (Fear of Dark), but it is a phobic disorder that can cause great discomfort to the person who suffers from it. It is also known as scotophobia, although it is frequently associated with fear of the night or nyctophobia..

In this article we review the main characteristics of this phenomenon and delve into its causes, symptoms and treatment.

What is the irrational fear of the dark?

Scotophobia is the irrational and extreme fear of the dark. Like a phobia, It belongs to the group of anxiety disorders, and its main symptoms are extreme anxiety and irrational fear of the phobic stimulus.. It involves avoiding situations and places where there is darkness, and the person may experience discomfort just thinking about it. Dark spaces without light are situations that can create a certain level of alertness or activation in the person, but do not necessarily create terror. Some people suffer panic attacks in these contexts, so they tend to avoid any situation like this.

It is common to see children afraid of the dark, largely because of the images that can be seen in movies, since at night and in the darkness ghosts or monsters usually appear in fantasy stories. However, In the case of adults, this fear is not so frequent, and when it occurs, it must be treated by a specialist..

You may be interested:  Depersonalization Disorder: Symptoms, Causes and Treatment

This pathology can have a great impact on the daily life of the person who suffers from it, mainly because the individual tends to be depressed, anxious or very nervous all the time. Every day of our life gets darker, so the discomfort manifests itself again and again. Those affected often refuse to leave their home after dark or are unable to sleep alone despite their age if they suffer from scotophobia.

What causes this phobia

The main cause of this phobia is irrational beliefs about darkness, and as I have already said, fueled by fantasy stories that often appear in books or movies, but also by popular beliefs.

However, Most phobias usually develop due to a traumatic experience in childhood., and occurs through a type of associative learning called classical conditioning. This type of conditioning was studied for the first time by the American psychologist John Watson, who managed to get a little boy, named Albert, to learn to be afraid of a white rat that he previously adored.

You can see this experiment in the video shown below:


Phobias can also develop for other reasons. One of them is vicarious conditioning, which is a type of observational learning. We explain it to you in our article: “Vicarious conditioning: how does this type of learning work?”

Some authors also claim that people are biologically predisposed to suffer this type of fear, since this emotion has an adaptive function that has allowed the human species to survive the passage of centuries. For this reason, irrational fear is complex and sometimes difficult to overcome, since it does not respond to logical arguments. This is a primitive and non-cognitive association.

You may be interested:  Types of Cognitive Therapy: What They Are and What Are Their Characteristics

Symptoms of scotophobia

This phobia causes a series of symptoms that can be cognitive, behavioral or physical and physiological.

Cognitive symptoms include fear, distress, anxiety, confusion, irrational beliefs, or inattention.. Regarding behavioral symptoms, the person tends to avoid the phobic stimulus in an attempt to reduce discomfort.

Physical and physiological symptoms include:


Despite being disabling and creating great discomfort, this phobia has a cure. Psychologists deal with irrational fears every day and, according to research, Psychological therapy has a high degree of effectiveness in the treatment of these anxiety disorders.

There are different therapeutic schools and different methodologies to deal with psychological problems, but cognitive behavioral therapy, which uses techniques from both cognitive therapy and behavioral therapy, is very successful in treating phobias.

Some of the most used for this type of disorders are relaxation techniques and exposure techniques. Now, the technique par excellence, the one that is most effective, is systematic desensitization.

This technique combines relaxation and exposure techniques, and helps the patient by gradually exposing themselves to the phobic stimulus while learning tools to cope in the best possible way with the situations they fear.

Other treatments

Now, there are other forms of treatment that are used and with great results: hypnosis, cognitive therapy based on Mindfulness or acceptance and commitment therapy are some examples. These last two belong to what is known as third generation therapies, which emphasize the relationship that the patient has with their problem, the context and acceptance.

Drug treatment is also used, but only in severe casesand always in combination with psychological therapy to ensure that the results are maintained in the long term.

You may be interested:  The 10 Best Geriatric Residences in Parla

Apps to treat phobias

The emergence of new technologies in recent decades has also affected the treatment of phobias.. In fact, virtual reality and augmented reality are ideal for the patient to expose themselves to the phobic stimulus without the need to have it in front of them. Additionally, the exhibition takes place in a controlled environment.

But the treatment of phobias has even reached smartphones, as there are different applications that aim to help people overcome their irrational fears.