Every time Anita Maier goes to the doctor and gets a shot, she faints. The reason? Her fear of needles, which she said she has had all her life. Even watching a movie that has a scene with a needle in it triggers some fear in her.
While not everyone is afraid of needles like Maier, people can be afraid of a lot of different things. According to Greg Hajcak, an associate professor of psychology, fear serves a purpose.
“Fear is one of the most basic emotions,” Hajcak said. “It serves a function, it’s a protective response. Most of the time the things that people are afraid of were rational at one time such as snakes, spiders or open or closed spaces.”
In a survey done by The Statesman on fears, the responses people gave of what their biggest fear was varied from the physical such as rodents, clowns, snakes, birds and spiders to the philosophical, such as dying before being able to start a family, to the psychological, like public speaking.
No matter what a person may be afraid of, Hajcak said there is one thing that is certain.
“One of the things that we know about fear is that it doesn’t last forever,” Hajcak said. “If you hang out there in a situation long enough your body goes back to baseline because there is no real threat.”
A person’s specific fear can come from a multitude of sources as well. Maier for example, also said she has a fear of swiming in deep water.
“I have a fear of the dark, unknown, mysterious ocean water because you never know what’s there that can hurt you,” said Maier, 22, a business major. “It started when I was a child and I went to swim in a pool at night. I didn’t like that it was so dark and I couldn’t see what was below me.”
One person who responded to a survey by The Statesman said he or she had a fear of snakes that originated from living out in the country near the woods. “Whenever it got cold, the snakes in the area would creep into our basement. Nothing like going to put a load of laundry into the dryer and almost tripping over something slithery.”
Hajcak said that fears could also be genetically determined. “It’s not so much what you’re afraid of, but the ability to develop a fear,” Hajcak said.
Coincidently, one person who took the survey responded that he or she has a fear of birds. One of the reasons the person gave for this was “my grandma was terrified of birds, so it could possibly be some weird connection or something.”
What’s the most common fear?
“Something around 75 percent of people would say they are afraid of public speaking,” Hajcak said.
And remember that age-old “pretend everyone is in their underwear while giving a speech” technique? Turns out it’s valid.
“When people give speeches, they tend to focus on what themselves and what they are saying, which could make them more anxious,” Hajcak said. “Doing something like pretending everyone is in their underwear draws the attention away from them to the audience.”

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