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Monday, May 15, 2017

Women and Phobias

"Phobias are defined as intense fears in the presence or anticipation of a specific object or situation. Gender differences in the prevalence and presentation of phobias are common but tend to vary across types. Women are twice as likely as men to meet the criteria for a diagnosis of any specific phobia (27% vs. 13%) or multiple phobias (5% vs. 2%). Specifically. women are more apt to report animal (12% vs.3% men), natural environment (5% vs. 3% men) and situational (17% vs 9% men) phobias. Height and flying phobias tend to be distributed more evenly across gender (60% women), and blood-injection-injury phobia is equally common in both genders (LeBeau et al.. 2010).

Gender differences in specific phobias have been linked to biological and environmental factors. The heritability of specific phobias runs between 30% and 60%, with variation across subtypes. Interestingly, there appears to be a genetic factor specifically associated with the development of animal and situational phobias, which might explain why women tend to report more of these phobias than men.

Genetic factors in the development of phobias appear to be most influential during early childhood. As children grow, their genetic vulnerabilities tend to be shaped by social and environmental factors—a process moderated by gender. Socialization processes teach women and men what to fear, how much to fear, and how to respond to fearful stimuli in ways that are consistent with their gender roles. For example, women learn to overestimate the probability that an object or situation is harmful and are more apt to experience these events as unpredictable and uncontrollable. Fear expression and avoidance of fearful stimuli are more consistent with female (vs. male) gender roles and are more apt to be reinforced in women and discouraged in men. Indeed, men are typically encouraged to approach (vs. avoid) fearful stimuli, reducing their risk for phobias through repeated exposure (Craske, 2003). Moreover, women tend to be better at identifying the emotional states of others’ through nonverbal cues (e.g.. facial expression, body language). This heightened sensitivity to socially transmitted information puts women at greater risk for developing specific phobias through processes of vicarious conditioning, such as observational learning. Research also shows that girls are more susceptible to parental modeling of fear and anxiety than boys."

--- Catherine E. Gallagher and Margo C. Watt in Phobias: The Psychology of Irrational Fear: The Psychology of Irrational Fear / edited by Irena Milosevic Ph.D., Randi E. McCabe Ph.D.


In other words, women have more irrational fears than men (since phobias are irrational fears).
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