Some fears and phobias are very personal, like the fear of flying or the fear of dogs. Other fears are more universal. Some scary things are scary to almost everyone, probably because the root of the fear is tied to the evolution of the human species. Most people are afraid of things that at some point in human history were deadly threats, so that fear makes sense. Even though some of those scary things are not really a biological threat anymore they can still set off a mortal fear in almost all people regardless of age, culture, or location. Here are eight of the most common scary things that are scary to most people:
1. Spiders – No one really knows why people are so creeped out by spiders but the fear of spiders, or arachnophobia, is a phobia that most people have to some degree. Not everyone is going to run away from a spider screaming, but most people don’t really like spiders and would prefer not to be near them. That is kind of unfortunate considering how prolific spiders are. It is said that no matter where you are there is a spider within seven feet of you. Most spiders are harmless, but spiders still evoke a very real terror in millions of people.
2. Snakes and lizards – Were you scared by “Snakes on a Plane”? If so you’re not alone. Snakes and lizards are very scary things for a huge swath of the population. Some people do keep snakes and lizards as house pets, but many people prefer to only interact with snakes and lizards from behind the safety of an aquarium wall if at all. Some snakes and lizards can be dangerous in the wild, so prehistoric man probably developed a fear of these animals in an order to stay alive.
3. Clowns – Most children love clowns, and most adults don’t. At some point as kids grow up they stop seeing clowns as joyful objects of laughter and see them as sinister terrifying threats. John Wayne Gacy, one of the worst serial killers in American history, was also a popular children’s clown. Some people are so crippled by their fear of clowns that they have trouble participating in holiday or family events where they might encounter a children’s clown. Many horror movies tap into the fear of clowns to terrify adults.
4. Ghosts and the paranormal – There’s a reason why Paranormal Activity was the most successful horror film in history. Ghosts and paranormal events are scary things for a huge chunk of the population. The fear of something that you can’t see being able to hurt you is enough to scare anyone. But paranormal events are terrifying because they can’t be controlled, and because it’s hard to fight an enemy that you can’t see. Almost half of the people in the US believe in ghosts or believe that paranormal activity happens. Throughout history people have tried to appease the dead with offerings, ceremonies, and gifts to make sure that they don’t return to hurt the living.
5. Germs/Illness – From an evolutionary standpoint it’s easy to see why people are scared of germs or viruses. Millions of people die even today from infections and diseases. But today the germs and viruses that people are the most afraid of are ones that could cause a massive pandemic or even a zombie apocalypse. There have been studies done showing that some illnesses, like rabies, could conceivably make the jump from animals to humans and wreak havoc on the population. Horror movies have been scaring people with the possibility of a virus that causes people to turn into zombies or vampires for decades.
6. Being watches or stalked or hunted – The scariest movies are almost always the ones that involve a person being stalked, hunted, or watched. There is something utterly terrifying about the idea that you are being watched by an unseen person who could do you harm. From Psycho to shows like Hannibal the fear of being watched or hunted is a plot device used often because it’s something that nearly everyone can relate to. In the modern world this fear is increased because people feel more exposed and vulnerable due to technology that can pinpoint your location or track you without you knowing.
7. Monsters – It’s not just ghosts that strike mortal fear into the heart of people. Any type of monster is terrifying. Dracula, Frankenstein, the Mothman, and many other monsters throughout history have kept people awake at night and inspired a terror that people can’t easily get rid of. In the Middle Ages people used to dig up corpses looking for evidence that they were vampires. Supposed witches and warlocks were tortured and killed. Even fairy tales featured monsters that were supposed to scare children into behaving.
8. Death – The fear of death is one of the scariest things and everyone has to face it at some point. The scariest thing about death is that there is no escape from it. Almost all of the other scary things that people are afraid of can be broken down into being a fear of death. Even people who believe in a peaceful afterlife are afraid of death. Fear of dying and fear of death come in many forms. People can be afraid of how they will die, or afraid of being hurt, or afraid their beliefs are wrong. Fear of death can motivate people to run faster, be cleverer, or fight harder so fear is not always a bad thing.
Scary things are a part of everyone’s lives but the specific nature of fear is different for everyone. One of the reasons why people love scary movies, TV show and books so much may be that they can experience the adrenaline rush of being afraid from the safety of their living room or the movie theater where they are surrounded by the safety of other people. Nothing seems quite so scary when you are in a safe and familiar setting.