Book Excerpt: 'Click'

Some terms were a little more difficult to classify as true phobias or mere curiosities. The second most searched on term was "fear of long words," which may have its origins in an ironic urban legend–inspired definition. When searching on the term, we found several listings that claim the official Latin term to describe this fear is Hippopotomonstrosesquippedalio. (The actual Latin nomenclature for this fear is Sesquipedalophobia.)

People searching on this fear are probably just amused by the fact that someone's come up with such a long word for it, rather than truly identifying with the fear. Interestingly, in searching for an explanation of this phenomenon, I found several websites that claimed to offer a cure for the fear of long words, including one on which a "board-certified team specializes in helping individuals overcome fears, phobias & anxiety of all kinds, and is particularly focused on problems such as fear of long words." As I drilled further through these sites, however, it became clear that the site owners made liberal use of their word processor's search-and- replace functionality to create boilerplate text on every conceivable fear.

After all the filtering, we arrived at a list of the top searched-on fears for our sample. While the list isn't as direct as asking the question "What are you afraid of?", it is a view of what fears we are trying to understand, typed into search engines, which, unlike our friends, relatives, or therapists, are incapable of judging us.

Here are the top ten search terms from queries containing "fear of":

1. Flying 2. Heights 3. Clowns (which may also refer to the movie Fear of Clowns) 4. Intimacy 5. Death 6. Rejection 7. People 8. Snakes 9. Success 10. Driving

One of the most noticeable differences between the list of searches on fears and the phobia list compiled by the National Comorbidity Survey is that there is only one social fear in the Comorbidity Survey top nine, the fear of speaking publicly, versus four in the "fear of" searches: "fear of intimacy," "fear of rejection," "fear of people," and "fear of success."

Psychologists group our fears into specific categories, distinguishing between social phobias, or those fears that involve our interactions with other people, and specific fears, which might include the fear of heights, spiders, or public transportation.

The big question then is why our search patterns on fear show significantly more social fears than what were found based on a survey. Estimates are that 15 million Americans, nearly 6.8 percent of our populace over the age of eighteen, suffer from some form of social anxiety disorder. Yet if these numbers are calculated on the basis of a survey, it's entirely possible that we're undercalculating those afflicted with social fears. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, social phobia is defined as an anxiety disorder characterized by overwhelming anxiety and excessive self-consciousness in everyday social situations. Social phobia can be limited to only one type of situation—such as a fear of speaking in formal or informal situations, or eating or drinking in front of others—or, in its most severe form, may be so broad that a person experiences symptoms almost anytime they are around other people.

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