Synonyms in the broader sense

Spider anxiety, fear of spiders, spider phobia

English: arachnophobia


Arachnophobia is a type of specific anxiety.
The term comes from the ancient Greek and means spider fear (spider phobia). It refers to the fear of spiders, which is exaggerated and unfounded, since there is no real danger. The fear does not always have to come from the confrontation of a real spider, but can also be triggered by pictures or toys that represent a spider.


Arachnophobia is widespread in Germany as well as throughout Europe. Overall, about 10% of the population in Germany suffer from such a phobia. The fear of spiders is most common within animal phobias. Among those affected are mainly women (90-95%). There are hardly any poisonous spiders living in Europe. Despite this, more people in EU countries suffer from the fear of spiders than in the areas where the poisonous spiders live more (eg rainforests).


The symptoms that occur in those afflicted in a state of anxiety (a real encounter with arachnid) are similar to the general symptoms of specific anxiety. How strongly spider anxiety manifests itself varies between individuals. Not every affected person shows the same symptoms equally pronounced. The type and duration of the treatment depends on the type and severity of the symptoms.
The fear of arachnid can be felt on three different levels:

  • Subjectively: Through narratives about one's own fears of spiders from the person concerned.
  • in behavior: avoid the fearful place and objects in which there could be a confrontation with a spider.
  • physical: physical reactions occur in connection with the spider (eg sweating, shaking, accelerated heartbeat etc.),

The fears aroused by thoughts of an arachnid or the confrontation with such an animal are usually greatly exaggerated and inappropriate in the particular situation. For example, the above-described anxiety can often lead to panic-like symptoms, which are an enormous burden of suffering for the affected person.

Furthermore, the attention of the affected people is usually very targeted. Those affected usually look for spaces they enter or stay in, for possible spiders. When it comes to confronting arachnid (in reality, or in the form of a picture / toy, etc.), those affected usually react with a feeling of discomfort to flight and strong physical symptoms (sweating, shaking, palpitations, shortness of breath, Etc.). People who suffer from arachnophobia / spider anxiety are often unable to control their fears themselves or to keep an eye on the inappropriate nature of anxiety in their situation.


The factors used to explain the development of spider anxiety are also based on the explanations of specific anxiety. Here one starts from a multi-dimensional explanatory approach, ie many causes may have contributed to the emergence of arachnophobia.
The explanatory approaches can be summarized in three different groups:

  • Learning Theory Factors
  • Neurobiological factors
  • individual differences

The onset of spider anxiety is most commonly explained by theories of learning. "Learning by the model" (observational learning, a form of learning) plays an essential role in the development of their arachnophobia in many affected persons. Already in childhood, the person closely observes the behavior of the parents or related persons. If the child's mother suffers from spider anxiety and the fear is very clear in behavior even when the child is still young, the child has observed this behavior in response to a spider and this connection (spider and mother's fear) learned. It is assumed that these children often also develop arachnophobia in the course of their lives, although they themselves must have experienced no negative experiences with the arachnids. An indication of this assumption is the increased spider anxiety that can be detected in various family members. In contrast to other specific phobias, such as fear of flying, arachnophobia is not always based on a traumatic event that triggers spider anxiety.
other causes: see causes of specific anxiety


In order to be able to diagnose arachnophobia, the behavior of the affected person is usually inquired by a therapist / doctor through a personal interview (clinical interview).
The therapist / physician tries to find out in the conversation whether the patient's behavior and thoughts meet the diagnostic criteria (specific anxiety criteria) that must be met in order to diagnose arachnophobia.
It is asked, for example, since when the fear exists, when it occurs, what symptoms the person has noticed with him. Alternatively, specific questionnaires are used, which also query the presence of the above criteria.
With the help of these procedures, the therapist / physician can continue to rule out that a different clinical picture is present in the affected person.


With a less pronounced fear of spiders, a treatment is often not necessary. But if the fear severely limits the life of the person concerned and the quality of life is significantly worsened, it makes sense to treat the fears. Affected persons often report a great suffering, which can be triggered solely by the idea of ​​a arachnid. This is another clue that speaks for the need for treatment. Through the treatment the affected persons should learn a normal way of dealing with the arachnids and come to the realization that the feared arachnids represent no real danger and that therefore their fear is exaggerated and unfounded.

The treatment of arachnophobia occurs as in almost all forms of specific anxiety. Measures from behavioral therapy have proven particularly useful here. In particular, the process of systematic desensitization and flooding (overstimulation) usually achieve good treatment results in the context of specific anxiety (spider anxiety here).

Systematic desensitization

Learning a relaxation procedure (progressive muscle relaxation, autogenic training, breathing exercises, etc.) should help those affected to calm down and relax in the fear-filled situations. The dreaded situations identified by the individuals concerned are now systematically targeted (from low fear to high anxiety). In the situation, the person applies the previously learned relaxation procedure. This allows the person to stay in the situation and learn that no bad event will occur. Later, the person, without the therapist's guidance, can visit situations (here: situations where arachnid is present) on their own and, if necessary, use the relaxation procedure against emerging anxiety.


The affected person is confronted directly, without slow introduction, with the most dreaded stimulus (eg touching a spider) and should remain in this situation. In this situation the person learns that the dreaded events (eg bite of the spider) will not happen.

see also : Therapy of specific anxiety


Animal phobias (here: spider anxiety) often start in childhood and can develop into adulthood. However, a treatment need usually only exists if the affected person feels very restricted in their way of life due to their fears and reports severe suffering. Then, in the context of a behavioral therapy, there are very good chances of treatment for the affected person.

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