What causes claustrophobia?
Claustrophobia is generally the result of an experience in the person’s past (usually in their childhood) that has led them to associate small spaces with the feeling of panic or being in imminent danger. Examples of these kinds of past experiences are:
- falling into a deep pool and not being able to swim
- being in a crowded area and getting separated from parents/group
- crawling into a hole and getting lost/stuck.
As the experience will have dealt some kind of trauma to the person, it will affect their ability to cope with a similar situation rationally. The mind links the small space/confined area to the feeling of being in danger and the body then reacts accordingly (or how it thinks it should).
This type of cause is known as classic conditioning and can also be a behavior inherited from parents or peers. If for example, a claustrophobic person has a child, the child may observe their parent’s behavior and develop the same fears.
There are other theories behind the causes of claustrophobia, these are:
- Smaller Amygdalae – the amygdala is a tiny part of the brain that is used to control how the body processes fear.
In a study published in Psychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences, Fumi Hayano and colleagues discovered that people who suffered panic disorders had smaller amygdalae than average.
This smaller size could interfere with how the body processes panic and anxiety.
- Prepared Phobia – there is also a theory that phobias develop on the genetic level rather than psychologically. The research behind this theory suggests that claustrophobia and some other phobias are dormant evolutionary survival mechanisms. A survival instinct buried within our genetic code that was once crucial to human survival but is no longer needed.