A phobia is an anxiety type mental disorder manifesting as an intense, irrational adversion to a specific stimulus - normally an activity, location or creature. This is usually characterised as a fear based response (from A.Gk Phobos - a fear or dread), with the usual range of responses that entails.
Note that to be a true phobia, the adversion must be disproportionate to the degree of hazard posed by the stimulus - fear of something that is actually dangerous is not pathological, although an excessive, panicked response to them may well be. By way of an example let us consider arachnophobia - the pathological fear of spiders. There are a great many species of venomous spiders, a good number of which are dangerous to humans - it is perfectly normal and adaptive to be cautious, even fearful towards an unknown spider and indeed it appears that humans have a built in revulsion response to spiders and spider like creatures1. However a phobic individual is unable to suppress this response in the case of a spider known to be harmless and is likely to have an exaggerated avoidance pattern, going a long way out of their way to avoid sight, let alone contact with a spider and becoming panicked by physical contact. Thus, whilst both a degree of fear and revulsion are adaptive, they become pathalogical when taken to excess.
Phobias are usually treated by controlled exposure - theoretical at first in severe cases, followed by visual acclimatisation and eventually physical contact, sometimes using sedative drugs to attenuate the physiological effects of the dear response.
The term "phobia" is also misused in a non-clincal context to memetically pathologise any kind of rejection or adversion that the user wishes to object to, regardless of its actual motivation or proportionality. This falls into the category that is (politely) referred to as "weasel words" and is best avoided around adults, especially those who have actual mental health problems to deal with, whether as patient, carer or professional.
List of Phobias, with short descriptions.
Game and Story Use
- Phobias are a frequent occurrence in horror games, and they generally appear after contact with Things Man Was Not Meant To Know. This can affect both player characters and nonplayer characters.
- They are also fairly common in point-buy system where players can take disadvantages for their player characters to get a few extra bonus points which they can spend elsewhere. The phobias listed here may serve as inspiration.