Although phobias do tend to sound rather bizarre, especially when people claim to have phobias of completely harmless things like birds and amputees, they do develop for a reason. Anxiety phobias are able to develop because of certain little used human instincts that are intended to help us survive, but occur when fear is misplaced.
Although the creation of phobias is not an absolute science, all types of phobias form as the result of an extreme aversion to something. The difference between a phobia and simply being afraid of something is the level of fear that is characteristic of a phobia. In addition to feeling emotionally uneasy, folks who suffer from anxiety phobias show physical symptoms of their fear, including increased heart rate and breathing, sweating, feeling faint, and feeling as though they are choking.
Anxiety phobias strike people differently depending on the severity of their phobia and what triggers the phobic response. For example, for someone who has a phobic reaction to heights is usually not equally frightened by all situations involving heights, and how high they are, the presence of a handrail, and a number of other factors affect each individual phobic response.
However, the classic example of phobia formation is that a fear of poisonous snakes gets transferred to all snakes, creating a snake phobia. Although the ideas about phobia development have progressed from this theory, the phobia forms because the brain identifies a great threat, in this case a snake, and sees the situation as out of control and dangerous.
A phobia is an instinct for self-preservation that has been falsely assigned to something that is not threatening, or at least not as threatening as the phobia sufferer makes it seem. When a person develops a phobia, their brain associates something with extreme danger, treats it with the utmost seriousness, and perceives the phobia trigger as something that should be completely avoided. Essentially, your brain becomes confused and gives you a feeling of dread when you are in the presence of a phobic trigger. In certain cases, a phobia can be so entrenched that the phobia sufferer cannot stand to think about their trigger or what they may do in its presence.
While phobias can be difficult to deal with, the system that causes phobias to develop is a means of protection and was very helpful to our early ancestors. In certain parts of the world at different times in history, it may have been the people who have snake phobias who were able to survive, especially in places like Africa and Australia where there are an abundance of highly venomous snake species. For early people, fearing and avoiding snakes may have kept them alive, but they were able to react in an extreme way to the presence of a snake. They were also allowed to kill the snake, which may help cure the phobia, if the presence of a snake was seen as a controllable situation.
Psychologists have observed in experiments that it is easier for people to develop phobias of certain things. One experiment showed that it took only 1-2 electric shocks paired with images of a snake to elicit phobic reactions, while it took many electric shocks to develop the same phobic response to images of flowers. This leads many scientists to believe that anxiety phobias are hereditary and a normal human instinct that can help one survive. However, in modern society most phobias are a major inconvenience since the survival skills needed for most cultures is vastly different than in the past.