BYU students describe their unusual fears


Actress Kristen Bell may shed tears of joy when around sloths, but for one student at BYU, tears of fear may be more accurate.

Although fear of sloths is rare, Camryn Gallacher, a freshman from Sacramento, Calif., developed this fear as a child and it has not gone away.

Camryn Gallacher

“I am terrified of sloths,” Gallacher said. “I watched ‘The Most Extreme’ on Animal Planet when I was little and ever since I have been afraid of them.”

According to, fears develop in response to a situation thought to cause harm.

“They all have some potential threat of danger,” said Jerilyn Ross, president and CEO of the national nonprofit organization the Anxiety Disorders Association of America. “The higher the person’s perceived threat of danger, the more frightened the person will be.”

Michael Cureton, a senior studying business, from Henderson, Nev., feels such a threat when touched by a spider web.

[pullquote]”I’m scared of taking things out of the oven and burning the dickens out of my hands, feet or wrists,”[/pullquote]

“I’ve always hated spiders, although it may have to do more with their webs,” Cureton said. “They creep me out by how small they are and seem to go unnoticed till they are on you. I walk into one of their cobwebs and immediately start frantically trying to pull them off.”

Although most who are afraid of spiders are thought to have arachnophobia, there is a distinct difference between phobias and fears.

Professor Bruce Carpenter, director of clinical training for the Department of Psychology at BYU, said in an email it is what prompts the response and how the person reacts that distinguishes them.

“We generally considered fears to be objective, in that there is an identified object or situation that is feared which is real, reasonably eminent, and has a reasonable chance of causing us harm,” Carpenter said. “For phobias, the risk is generally exaggerated, often because there is no reasonable imminent danger and the concern is not well based in reality … Fear tends to be more situation-specific, whereas phobia tend to be more general.”

Arachnophobia is one of the most common phobias in the world, according to

An article from Live Science says the fear of spiders can develop before birth.

“Scientists figure humans may be born with a fear of spiders and snakes, healthy phobias that up the odds of survival in the wild,” the article says. “It’s not known how such an inborn fear might develop, however.”

Although Cureton does not suffer from arachnophobia, says many Americans do suffer from phobias.

“More than one in 10 Americans have one or more specific phobias, the institute estimates, and an additional 2 percent suffer from panic disorder each year,” the web site says.

Even if Katie Tehrani, a junior from Valentine, Neb., studying English education, does not fit in the category of those suffering from a phobia, Tehrani is terrified of sneezing while driving.

“I’m afraid of sneezing while driving,” Tehrani said. “I’m always afraid I’ll sneeze and get into an accident because of it.”

Tehrani said another fear she has is taking things out of the oven.

“I’m scared of taking things out of the oven and burning the dickens out of my hands, feet or wrists,” Tehrani said.

The fears of sloths, spiderwebs, sneezing and being burned do not make the list of most common fears on This list includes water, public transportation, storms, closed spaces, tunnels or bridges, crowds and speaking in public.

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