The Sky is Not the Limit


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heights.jpg

Does crossing bridges make you scared?  Does flying in planes give you anxiety?  How about standing on high up balconies or riding roller coasters?  Personally, these things are some of my worst nightmares due to my fear of heights.  A condition called acrophobia is known as an extreme fear of heights.  But why isn't everyone scared of heights? 

Acrophobia is one of the most common phobias in the United States, as well as across the globe.  But what causes some people to have this fear and others to be perfectly fine performing any of the activities mentioned above.  After researching, I found a recent study performed by psychologist Russell Jackson that explains a potential reason why this happens to some, but not all. 

Jackson's study began by surveying students through psychological questions to gauge their acrophobia level.  From the results of this survey, he chose 43 students to test further.  The study asked each volunteer to approximate the height of a five-story, 14.4-meter parking garage, with test subjects located at the top or bottom of the building.  Results showed that errors were made by subjects both on top and bottom of the building, even though the subjects should have technically erred more from up top because of their fright.  This made the psychologist believe that those that have acrophobia may suffer from this because of an issue with perception of vertical dimensions.   The misperception of heights can cause acrophobiacs who see a 14-meter building like it is 50 meters to react like normal people would to a 50-metre building and therefore seem more scared of heights than the average person.

After reading about this study, the idea of misperception of height seemed like a perfect reason for acrophobia.  I believe the next question scientists would have to investigate would be why certain people have this misperception.  Is it something in the brain that causes it?  Or is it another psychological issue?  Is acrophobia genetic? Do parents pass the fear along to their children?  Answering questions, such as these, may help get a better understanding of acrophobia and perhaps can help find a "cure" of some sort to help those many people finally face their fear of heights!

References:

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-1370858/Acrophobia-Fear-heights-treated-stress-hormone-cortisol.html

http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn16658-fear-of-heights-linked-to-vertical-perception.html

 

 

3 Comments

As someone who loves heights, I haven't had this issue. But I have a legitimate question. Does the higher up a person is affect the perception of the height? If you place two people 50 stories high and asked them to step out on a ledge, would they both be afraid? Does the phobia only work in short distances?

I've never heard of someone who is afraid of heights as having a bad perception of dimensions... but I'm sure that that case is true! I know I would fall under that category myself.

What I wanted to know is if the same idea rings true for those who are claustrophobic, or scared of enclosed spaces. Are they unaware of how much space they actually have?

This study here seems to find a link between the two much in the same way that your study did:

http://psychcentral.com/news/2011/04/13/distorted-spatial-perceptions-tied-to-claustrophobia/25277.html

Those who were claustrophobic underestimated horizontal distances, meaning they had thought they had less space then what they actually did.

I've never heard of someone who is afraid of heights as having a bad perception of dimensions... but I'm sure that that case is true! I know I would fall under that category myself.

What I wanted to know is if the same idea rings true for those who are claustrophobic, or scared of enclosed spaces. Are they unaware of how much space they actually have?

This study here seems to find a link between the two much in the same way that your study did:

http://psychcentral.com/news/2011/04/13/distorted-spatial-perceptions-tied-to-claustrophobia/25277.html

Those who were claustrophobic underestimated horizontal distances, meaning they had thought they had less space then what they actually did.

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