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What is Neophobia?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 13 November 2018
  • Copyright Protected:
    2003-2018
    Conjecture Corporation
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Neophobia is a fear of new things. One of the most common ways in which neophobia manifests is in the form of a fear of new or different foods. This phobia is a form of social anxiety disorder, and there are a number of available options for treatment, with some patients simply growing out of their fears over time, while others can benefit from therapy and other treatments. Treatments can include talk therapy with a therapist, desensitization guided by a mental health professional, and sometimes the use of medications to manage feelings of stress and anxiety.

There are some natural explanations for neophobia. Many humans prefer routine and the familiar, feeling more comfortable when they know their environment well and when the things which happen around them are predictable. Neophobia can be a form of self protection for people who don't want to break routine. For young children, who are often being overwhelmed with new experiences, neophobia can come from a desire to control the world and to have constants in a world which seems to be changing all the time without clear rules. Older adults may also experience the fear of new things because they do not like diverting from established habits.

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People who fear new things can fear a wide variety of things. Foods are a common example, but some people also experience stress, fear and anxiety when something about their environment changes, when they are introduced to new concepts or people, when they must relocate their homes or workspaces, and so forth. People with neophobia can experience physical reactions such as a racing heart rate, sweating, and shaking when confronted with new things, and emotional reactions such as stress, fear, or distress can manifest as well.

One way to address neophobic tendencies is through a process known as desensitization, in which a therapist gradually introduces the patient to new things to get the patient more familiar with new concepts, objects, and environments. Desensitization usually starts with a session in which the therapist identifies the types of fears the patient has and explores their causes, so that the therapist knows which kinds of new things to present, and at what pace. One wants to avoid traumatizing the patient while providing therapy.

Growing out of neophobia is also possible, assuming that one is not disciplined or traumatized for it. For example, if the parents of a child are patient about the child's fear of new things, the child can learn that these things are not frightening or dangerous, and the phobia may resolve as the child grows more confident.

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