The neophobia is an anxiety disorder that is defined by the presentation of excessive and unjustified fear of the new.
That is, the person who suffers from this psychopathology has a high fear of new things or experiences.
The practice is usually manifested as an unwillingness to try new things or break with everyday and routine activities.
However, this alteration does not refer to a specific type of personality or a peculiar way of being.
Neophobia is a specific type of phobia, so that the individual who suffers it is not that present displeasure to the new. What it presents is a high fear of these elements and a marked response of anxiety when it is exposed.
In addition, the subject with neophobia experiences these sensations in an uncontrollable and irrational way. So in some cases you may want or have some intention to experience new things, but your high fear prevents it.
Fortunately, this alteration currently has effective treatments that are capable of reversing and eliminating the phobic fear of the new.
Next, the main characteristics of neophobia are discussed. Its symptoms and causes are explained, and the interventions to be performed are postulated to treat it adequately.
Characteristics of neophobia
Neophobia is a peculiar type of specific phobia in which the element feared is any stimulus that is novel for the person.
In this way, it differs from specific phobias known as blood phobia or animal phobia due to its variability of the feared elements.
That is, while in the phobia of blood the feared element is clear, objective and measurable (blood), in neophobia the feared stimuli are much more variable and unpredictable.
In fact, individuals with neophobia may fear anything to which they attribute novel qualities.
In other words, in this type of specific phobia there is fear of any element that is new to the individual, be it material things, situations, activities, etc.
Thus, delimit, specify, diagnose and treat this alteration may be slightly more complex than other types of phobias.
Likewise, the severity of neophobia can also be greater, since the elements that the individual fears are much more numerous and can appear more easily in their day to day.
Manifestations of neophobia
To fear phobic novelty affects the person in two main ways. First, neophobia directly affects the person’s behavior. Second, the disorder causes anxiety alterations whenever the individual is exposed to new elements.
1- Behavioral alteration
The condition of the behavior disorder can be remarkably severe. That is, the functioning of a person with neophobia can be highly limited and modified by psychopathology.
In general, the disorder prevents the individual from exposing themselves to new situations and activities. Thus, the person with neophobia can carry out a totally monotonous and routine lifestyle.
Meet people, start a job, acquire or buy new things, visit places you have never gone to, do an activity that has not been done before …
All these elements are examples of things to which a person with neophobia is limited. That is, the individual will not expose himself or perform any of the activities previously discussed due to the fear they cause him.
This fact translates into a high restriction of gratifying elements. All people require a greater or lesser degree of novelty to experience pleasant sensations and rewarding experiences.
In this way, neophobia can affect many other spheres beyond the anxiety that causes fear. Limiting behavior to routine and absolute monotony can lead to mood disorders or personal dissatisfaction.
2- Altered anxiety
On the other hand, neophobia is explained and characterized by the manifestations of anxiety experienced by the person.
These appear when the individual is exposed to their feared elements. That is, when it comes into contact with new stimuli.
The anxiety response in these situations is serious and motivates the avoidance of new elements and behavioral disturbance.
Mainly, anxiety symptoms manifests itself through two main components: physical and cognitive.
The physical symptoms refer to all those bodily alterations that the individual experiences when he comes into contact with “the new”.
The physical anxiety response may vary in each case, but it always refers to a high increase in the central nervous system. A person with neophobia may experience some of the following bodily symptoms:
1. Increase in the cardiac rate.
2. Increase in the respiratory rate.
4. Sensation of suffocation.
6. Increase sweating.
7. Muscular tension
8. Pupillary dilation.
10. Sensation of unreality.
These physical manifestations are accompanied by a series of cognitive symptoms. That is to say, of a followed by thoughts about the novelty.
These thoughts are characterized by attributing negative aspects to all these new elements. They are the cause of fear of the new and are fed with physical manifestations to generate the feeling of anxiety.
At first, the physical symptoms cause high feelings of anxiety and increase the thoughts of fear of the new. Subsequently, these thoughts increase the anxious symptomatology, creating a loop in which anxiety can only go further.
Neophobia vs. rejection of the new
Each person has a series of personality traits that dictate their way of being, of perceiving the world and of acting.
Individual differences with respect to personality traits are multiple. Each person is different and has a series of characteristics that define him / her.
In this sense, one of the main components that mark the way of being of people is the search for sensations.
There are individuals who have a clear preference for novel, intense and rewarding aspects. And there are people who have a greater preference for the known, the safe and the routine.
New things configure exceptional situations in people’s lives. Regardless of the individual’s preferences, facing an unknown element or situation implies greater activation.
Not knowing what it is and how it is in front of you makes people have to be more alert to respond correctly. In this sense, experiencing certain sensations of tension in those moments constitutes a totally normal response.
In the case of neophobia, both the fear and the activation response to these situations is excessive. In order to differentiate the fear of neophobia from normal fear to the new, the following aspects must be taken into account:
Some situations and novel elements can report a certain degree of demand for the person. For example, driving at night on an unknown road may require greater activation of the subject carrying the car.
Thus, experiencing certain degrees of nervousness in the face of the new may be normal and not attributable to neophobia.
However, in this alteration, the fear response presents an excessive intensity with respect to the demands of the situation.
The individual responds with extreme fear at times that are scarcely fearful, in which said response of fear is not justified.
Linked to the previous point, adaptive fear responses in new situations are governed by rational processes.
For example, following the previous example, the fear of driving at night on an unknown road is explained by the need to be alert to correctly trace the curves of the road and not suffer an accident.
In neophobia, on the other hand, the fear experienced is totally irrational. The person who experiences it is not able to justify why he is afraid of the new.
Another element that defines the fear of neophobia is that it is uncontrollable. That is, the person who suffers is unable to control their experience and their feelings of fear.
When exposed to new elements, the individual is totally absorbed by fear and is not able to manage it.
The consequences of adaptive fear towards the new are usually minimal. Normally they only imply a greater state of activation, a certain nervousness and a greater attention towards the elements.
In contrast, in neophobia the consequences are much more devastating. In the first place they imply a total avoidance of the new elements, so the subject is unable to expose themselves to them and tries not to get in touch at all times.
On the other hand, when the person comes into contact with new stimuli, he has a high anxiety attack, a fact that is not present in adaptive fear of the new.
5- Feared elements
The adaptive fear of the new usually appears before situations or elements that configure or can configure a real danger for the person.
In neophobia, however, this screening is not present. The person with this alteration fears all new things, regardless of whether they involve a real danger or not.
Finally, neophobia is characterized as a permanent disorder. This persists over time and fear of the new is invariably experienced on all occasions.
Thus, this fear is not subject to specific moments or stages of a person’s life. An individual with neophobia will present fear of the new throughout his life if he does not perform the indicated treatments that allow him to overcome it.
Causes of neophobia
The etiological study of neophobia is based on the way in which people learn and acquire fear responses.
In this sense, today it is agreed that there is no single cause that gives rise to neophobia. Rather, it is the combination of different factors that originates the development of this psychopathology.
The main factors that have been related to neophobia are:
1- Classic conditioning
Having experienced situations and experiences aversive and unpleasant in relation to novel things can condition the experience of fear of the new.
For example, breaking your foot the first time you play football, being teased on the first day of school or suffering from belly aches and vomiting when trying a new food are factors that can contribute to the development of neophobia.
2- Verbal conditioning
On the other hand, receiving educational styles during childhood in which the realization of new things is rejected or a high sense of danger is attributed to the novel elements can also contribute to the conditioning of this type of fears.
3- Genetic factors
Although not well established, several research trends suggest that genetic factors may be involved in the etiology of neophobia.
Having family members with anxiety alterations and conservative personality styles would be a risk factor for this psychopathology.
4- Cognitive factors
Unrealistic beliefs about the damage that could be received if exposed to the feared stimulus, the attentional biases towards the threats related to the phobia, the low perceptions of self-efficacy and the exaggerated perceptions of the danger are elements that are related to the maintenance of the neophobia .
Treatments of neophobia
Neophobia can be adequately treated through psychotherapy. Specifically, the cognitive behavioral treatment is the psychological intervention that has shown greater efficacy.
These interventions are based on treating the three components affected by the phobia: the behavioral component, the physical component and the cognitive component.
The behavioral component is treated through exposure. The individual is exposed to their feared stimuli in a controlled manner in order to get used to them and overcome fear.
The physical component is treated through relaxation techniques that reduce the level of anxiety. Finally, the cognitive component is encompassed by cognitive techniques that allow correction of dysfunctional thoughts about the new.