Arachnophobia: how to overcome the fear of spiders

Felix Gussone, MD - Contributor Avatar

Reviewed by Felix Gussone, MD, Ro, 

Written by Marie Hasty, BSN 

Felix Gussone, MD - Contributor Avatar

Reviewed by Felix Gussone, MD, Ro, 

Written by Marie Hasty, BSN 

last updated: Jun 21, 2021

5 min read

Arachnophobia is the intense fear of spiders—a type of arachnid. Mites, ticks, and scorpions are also arachnids, but spiders are usually what scare people with arachnophobia most. 


Improve and support your health from the comfort of home

What is arachnophobia?

A phobia is more than just a fear of something. People with phobias have an extreme fear of an object or phenomenon that’s unlikely to cause harm. In other words: those fears are not based on any immediate danger but can still be very distressing. (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration, n.d.) 

Phobias are a form of anxiety disorder. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual 5th edition (DSM V) lists five subtypes of specific phobias based on a person's fears. These are animals (e.g., spiders), natural environment (e.g., heights, storms, water), blood/injections, situations (e.g., elevators, planes), and others (e.g., loud sounds or costumed characters) (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration, n.d.). 

Triggers for arachnophobia could be seeing a spider or knowing one is close by. In extreme cases, just thinking about spiders or hearing the word spider can trigger anxiety and distress. 

Some people with phobias will go to great lengths to avoid the thing they are afraid of. Unfortunately, this avoidance can negatively affect their lives and relationships. An arachnophobia diagnosis comes after these fears have persisted for six months or more (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration, n.d.). 

What are the symptoms of arachnophobia?

Symptoms of arachnophobia are related to intense anxiety. Symptoms include (Substance Abuse and Health Administration, n.d.): 

  • Fear and anxiety about spiders, including constant anxious thoughts about the presence of spiders or being bitten by a spider. 

  • Fear and anxiety are out of proportion to the real danger the person is in (most spiders aren’t dangerous) 

  • People with arachnophobia often change their behavior to avoid spiders. For about 19% of people with phobias, this avoidance changes the way they live, work, maintain relationships, or do normal tasks (Wardenaar, 2017). 

  • The fear, anxiety, or avoidance is persistent, typically lasting for six months or more.

These symptoms can be debilitating. People with arachnophobia tend to change their behavior to avoid getting triggered. 

What causes arachnophobia?

If you think you have arachnophobia, rest assured—you are not alone. Phobias are among the most prevalent anxiety disorders (Witthauer, 2016), and arachnophobia is especially common (Polak, 2020). According to some estimates, specific phobias will affect 7.4% of people at some point in life. Interestingly, phobias are more common among women; nearly 10% of women have a phobia at one time or another (Wardenaar, 2017). 

Many people get diagnosed with a specific phobia around the age of eight. Why some people develop phobias and others don't is a tricky question to answer. Scientists think that a complex mix of biological, psychological, and environmental factors leads to specific phobias. 

For example, scientists believe that processing and responding to fear happens in the amygdala, which processes fear and threats. Evidence suggests that this area of the brain could influence if someone has a phobia or not. One study found that women with arachnophobia had smaller amygdalae compared to women who weren’t afraid of spiders. Still, researchers are unsure whether the size of the amygdala is the cause or an effect of phobias (Fisler, 2013).

Other research has found that people with arachnophobia have a higher amygdala activation than those without a phobia (Münsterkötter, 2015).

Specific phobias also tend to aggregate in families. If you have a first-degree relative with a phobia, studies show you are more likely to develop one yourself (Villafuerte, 2003). Certain phobias seem to have a bigger genetic component, such as agoraphobia. Evidence for genetic inheritance is not as strong for animal phobias like arachnophobia (Kendler, 1999). 

One older theory trying to explain phobias is that specific phobias could be a way to help us stay out of harm. In 1971, Martin Seligman published a piece in the journal Behavior Therapy titled Phobias and Preparedness. He thought that phobias were an evolutionary asset to protect us from danger. After this study, several others have investigated the link between evolution and phobias (Seligman, 1971). While interesting, Seligman’s theory has not been proven to be true. 

This theory doesn’t help understand fear that can be more distressing than protective for people with phobias. It does also not address the fact that very few spiders are dangerous to humans. One study from 2018 challenged Seligman’s theory arguing that fear of scorpions would be more advantageous from an evolutionary standpoint. Yet, few people report phobic fears of scorpions compared to spiders (Vetter, 2018). 

Some experts believe that news and movies about spider bites have increased cultural fear. The box office hit Arachnophobia by Stephen Spielberg is one example. A 2020 study in Italy showed that most news of spider bites was sensational and false. The same study showed that social media tends to spread these false claims about spider bites (Mammola, 2020)

On the other hand, pop culture might also decrease fears. In a 2019 study, adults with arachnophobia watched scenes from Spiderman and Ant-man. This study used a version of exposure therapy—participants watched scenes including specific insects and were less fearful of them afterward. The preliminary results suggested that the positive context of superhero movies helped viewers to reframe their perceptions, decreasing their fear response (Hoffman, 2019).

What are treatments for arachnophobia?

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) with exposure is the first-line treatment for phobias (Thng, 2020). Medications like benzodiazepines are sometimes prescribed for people who find their phobia especially debilitating and for whom CBT isn’t available. 

Untreated phobias and anxieties are typically life-long (Bandelow, 2015). Unfortunately, few people who have phobias seek treatment (Mackenzie, 2011). This is likely due to fear of exposure therapy. But treating your arachnophobia doesn’t have to be scary. 

Exposure therapy for arachnophobia

As part of CBT, your therapist may ask if you are willing to try exposing yourself to spiders in a safe environment, as this is the main strategy to treat phobias. Your therapist may have you try repeatedly looking at images or other spider-related content. These repeated exposures are meant to reduce your fear by showing that you are not in danger (Craske 2014). This is in vivo exposure therapy, and some consider it the gold standard for specific phobias (Botella, 2016). 

Newer therapies use technology to make people feel more comfortable with spiders. Virtual and Augmented Reality have both proven to be effective compared to in vivo therapy (Thng, 2020; Wechsler, 2019).

For those with extreme arachnophobia, even seeing images of spiders might be traumatic. One study tried to mitigate the anxiety by using images of spider characteristics rather than actual arachnids (the Atomium of Brussels is an example of such an image). Participants in this group reduced their fear without even being aware they were being exposed to spiders (Granado, 2007).

A pulse-quickening 2019 study timed spider images to people’s heart rate. This new strategy showed that exposure to phobic fear at the exact time of heartbeats improved fear reactions. Afterward, participants felt less scared and showed fewer physical signs of fear. Researchers believe this is because the pumping cycle of the heart influences our perception of fearful things. This study could pave the way for new arachnophobia treatments (Watson, 2019).

What’s more, including more spider education in elementary schools could be a way to prevent arachnophobia. Research from 2018 found that education about spiders can decrease fear in children. This study recommended holding workshops and educational groups to prevent arachnophobia. These methods helped children identify dangerous spiders and showed them that most spiders are not harmful (Shahriari-Namadi, 2018). 

Like all phobias, arachnophobia can be debilitating. The good news is there is help, and you and a therapist can create a plan to treat your arachnophobia together. This will likely include cognitive-behavioral and exposure therapy. 


If you have any medical questions or concerns, please talk to your healthcare provider. The articles on Health Guide are underpinned by peer-reviewed research and information drawn from medical societies and governmental agencies. However, they are not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

  • Bandelow, B., & Michaelis, S. (2015). Epidemiology of anxiety disorders in the 21st century. Anxiety, 17 (3), 327–335. doi: 10.31887/dcns.2015.17.3/bbandelow. Retrieved from

  • Bandelow, B., Michaelis, S., & Wedekind, D. (2017). Treatment of anxiety disorders. Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience, 19 (2). Retrieved from [ pmc/articles/PMC5573566/]( pmc/articles/PMC5573566/)

  • Botella, C., Pérez-Ara, M. Á., Bretón-López, J., Quero, S., García-Palacios, A., & Baños, R. M. (2016). In vivo versus augmented reality exposure in the treatment of small animal phobia: A randomized controlled trial. PLOS One, 11 (2). doi: 10.1371/journal. pone.0148237. Retrieved from

  • Craske, M. G., Treanor, M., Conway, C. C., Zbozinek, T., & Vervliet, B. (2014). Maximizing exposure therapy: An inhibitory learning approach. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 58 , 10–23. doi: 10.1016/j.brat.2014.04.006. Retrieved from

  • de Vries, Y. A., Al-Hamzawi, A., Alonso, J., Borges, G., Bruffaerts, R., Bunting, B., et al (2019). Childhood generalized specific phobia as an early marker of internalizing psychopathology across the lifespan: results from the World Mental Health Surveys. BMC Medicine, 17 (1). doi: 10.1186/s12916-019-1328-3. Retrieved from [https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.](https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.

  • Fisler, M. S., Federspiel, A., Horn, H., Dierks, T., Schmitt, W., Wiest, R., et al. (2013). Spider phobia is associated with decreased left amygdala volume: a cross-sectional study. BMC Psychiatry, 13 (1). doi: 10.1186/1471-244x-13-70. Retrieved from

  • Fyer AJ, Mannuzza S, Gallops MS, Martin LY, Aaronson C, Gorman JM, et al. (1990). Familial transmission of simple phobias and fears. A preliminary report. Archives of General Psychiatry; 47 (3):252-6. doi: 10.1001/archpsyc.1990.01810150052009. Retrieved from

  • Granado, L. C., Ranvaud, R., & Peláez, J. R. (2007). A spiderless arachnophobia therapy: Comparison between placebo and treatment groups and six-month follow-up study. Neural Plasticity , 1–11. doi: 10.1155/2007/10241. Retrieved from

  • Hoffman, Y. S. G., Pitcho-Prelorentzos, S., Ring, L., & Ben-Ezra, M. (2019). “Spidey can”: preliminary evidence showing arachnophobia symptom reduction due to superhero movie exposure. Frontiers in Psychiatry, 10 . doi: 10.3389/fpsyt.2019.00354. Retrieved from

  • Kendler, K. S., Karkowski, L. M., & Prescott, C. A. (1999). Fears and phobias: reliability and heritability. Psychological Medicine, 29 (3), 539–553. doi: 10.1017/s0033291799008429. Retrieved from [https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih .gov/10405076/](https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih .gov/10405076/)

  • Mackenzie, C. S., Reynolds, K., Cairney, J., Streiner, D. L., & Sareen, J. (2011). Disorder-specific mental health service use for mood and anxiety disorders: associations with age, sex, and psychiatric comorbidity. Depression and Anxiety, 29 (3), 234–242. doi: 10.1002/da.20911. Retrieved from

  • Mammola, S., Nanni, V., Pantini, P., & Isaia, M. (2020). Media framing of spiders may exacerbate arachnophobic sentiments. People and Nature, 2 (4), 1145–1157. doi: 10.1002/pan3.10143. Retrieved from [ doi/full/10.1002/pan3.10143]( doi/full/10.1002/pan3.10143)

  • Münsterkötter, A. L., Notzon, S., Redlich, R., Grotegerd, D., Dohm, K., Arolt, V., et al. (2015). SPIDER OR NO SPIDER? NEURAL CORRELATES OF SUSTAINED AND PHASIC FEAR IN SPIDER PHOBIA. Depression and Anxiety, 32 (9), 656–663. doi: 10.1002/da.22382. Retrieved from

  • Polák, J., Sedláčková, K., Landová, E., & Frynta, D. (2020). Faster detection of snake and spider phobia: revisited. Heliyon, 6 (5). doi: 10.1016/j.heliyon.2020.e03968. Retrieved from

  • Seligman, M. E. P. (1971; 2016). Phobias and preparedness. Behavior Therapy, 2 (3), 307–320. doi: 10.1016/s0005-7894(71)80064-3. Retrieved from [https://pubmed.ncbi.](https://pubmed.ncbi.

  • Shahriari-Namadi, M., Tabatabaei, H. R., & Soltani, A. (2018). Entomophobia and arachnophobia among school-age children: A psychological approach. Shiraz E-Medical Journal, In Press(In Press) . doi: 10.5812/semj.64824. Retrieved from

  • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration. (n.d.). Table 3.11, DSM-IV to DSM-5 specific phobia comparison - Impact of the DSM-IV to DSM-5 changes on the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. NCBI Bookshelf [Internet]. Retrieved from

  • Thng, C., Lim-Ashworth, N., Poh, B., & Lim, C. G. (2020). Recent developments in the intervention of specific phobia among adults: A rapid review. F1000Research, 9 , 195. doi: 10.12688/f1000research.20082.1. Retrieved from [ /articles/PMC7096216/]( /articles/PMC7096216/)

  • Wardenaar, K. J., Lim, C. C. W., Al-Hamzawi, A. O., & Alonso, J. (2017). The cross-national epidemiology of specific phobia in the World Mental Health Surveys – CORRIGENDUM. Psychological Medicine, 48 (5), 878–878. doi: 10.1017/s0033291 717002975. Retrieved from

  • Watson, D. R., Garfinkel, S. N., Gould van Praag, C., Willmott, D., Wong, K., Meeten, F., & Critchley, H. D. (2019). Computerized exposure therapy for spider phobia: effects of cardiac timing and interoceptive ability on subjective and behavioral outcomes. Psychosomatic Medicine, 81 (1), 90–99. doi: 0.1097/psy.0000000000000646. Retrieved from

  • Witthauer, C., Ajdacic-Gross, V., Meyer, A. H., Vollenweider, P., Waeber, G., Preisig, M. et al. (2016). Associations of specific phobia and its subtypes with physical diseases: an adult community study. BMC Psychiatry, 16 (1). doi: 10.1186/s12888-016-0863-0. Retrieved from [ /articles/10.1186/s12888-016-0863-0]( /articles/10.1186/s12888-016-0863-0)

  • Vetter, R. S., Draney, M. L., Brown, C. A., Trumble, J. T., Gouge, D. H., Hinkle, N. C. et al. (2018). Spider fear versus scorpion fear in undergraduate students at five American universities. American Entomologist, 64 (2), 79–82. doi: /10.1093/ae /tmy030. Retrieved from

  • Villafuerte, S., & Burmeister, M. (2003). Untangling genetic networks of panic, phobia, fear and anxiety. Genome Biology, 4 (8). Retrieved from [ pmc/articles/PMC193636/]( pmc/articles/PMC193636/)

  • Wechsler, T. F., Kümpers, F., & Mühlberger, A. (2019). Inferiority or even superiority of virtual reality exposure therapy in phobias?—A systematic review and quantitative meta-analysis on randomized controlled trials specifically comparing the efficacy of virtual reality exposure to gold standard in vivo exposure in agoraphobia, specific phobia, and social phobia. Frontiers in Psychology, 10 . doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2019.01758. Retrieved from

How we reviewed this article

Every article on Health Guide goes through rigorous fact-checking by our team of medical reviewers. Our reviewers are trained medical professionals who ensure each article contains the most up-to-date information, and that medical details have been correctly interpreted by the writer.

Current version

June 21, 2021

Written by

Marie Hasty, BSN

Fact checked by

Felix Gussone, MD

About the medical reviewer

Felix Gussone is a physician, health journalist and a Manager, Medical Content & Education at Ro.