Is Anatidaephobia a Real Condition or Just Quackery?

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Updated on February 22, 2021

One of the most common conditions treated by psychologists is anxiety. It generally involves feelings of worry, nervousness, or unease associated with a sense of uncertainty about the outcome of a situation. While it’s common for people to feel nervous or fearful about a variety of circumstances in their lives, when these feelings interfere with one’s daily functioning, it’s recommended to find a psychotherapist that can help with treatment. There are many different kinds of anxiety diagnoses, but those that receive a disproportionate amount of attention, particularly in the media, are specific phobias.

Anatidaephobia

What is Anatidaephobia?

While there are many credible and crippling specific phobias, due to their irrational and intriguing nature, people have come up with a lot of outlandish and non-credible specific phobias in an effort to entertain the public. One such non-credible specific phobia is anatidaephobia, or the irrational fear that a person is being watched by a duck.

While to some, this may sound as legitimate a phobia as Coulrophobia (fear of clowns), it is actually a fictional phobia that was made up for a cartoon comic by Gary Larson in his cartoon series, The Far Side. It then picked up interest when a writer named Tammy Duffey wrote a satirical article regarding the symptoms and treatment of anatidaephobia where it was accompanied with an ad for Aflac, an insurance company that has a duck “watching over” its customers.

This humorous article lead the internet world to question this phobia’s accuracy and led to a lot of debates about it’s origin. However, it is indeed a fake phobia. Anatidaephobia has now become a satirical phobia that is joked about in videos and threads on social media networks, but has no scientific or medical support for being an actual mental health disorder.

What Are Real Specific Phobias?

Specific phobias are described by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM–5) as an excessive and irrational fear of a specified object or situation. The DSM-5 categorizes specific phobias into 5 types:

  1. Animal phobias – dogs, snakes, spiders, etc.
  2. Natural environment phobias – thunder storms, floods, earthquakes, etc.
  3. Blood-injection-injury phobias – seeing blood, getting medical treatment involving blood, witnessing medical procedures, etc.
  4. Situational phobias – elevators, airplanes, small spaces, etc.
  5. Other phobias – fears of contracting an illness, fear of choking, etc.

There are many specific phobia diagnoses that fall under these categories which are well-researched and found to be credible due to their prevalence. Those diagnosed with these phobias meet these criteria:

  1. Having a persistent, irrational fear
  2. Exposure to the feared item/situation leads to an extreme anxiety response (panic attack, screaming, freezing, etc.)
  3. Person recognizes that the fear is irrational
  4. A person avoids the feared stimuli
  5. The avoidance of this fear impacts a person’s daily life and overall functioning
  6. Fear lasts more than 6 months
  7. These fears do not directly come from another mental health diagnosis

Final Thoughts on Anatidaephobia

While this article makes light of a fictional disorder to provide some laughs and possibly dispel misconceptions held by the misinformed, specific phobias are real. They can be medically diagnosed and involve intense treatment. People seek to address these fears so they can live their lives comfortably, without limiting themselves and having to avoid normal, everyday activities.

Specific phobias are generally treated with psychotherapy designed to gradually expose people to the stimulus that they are afraid of to help them overcome the irrational fear and rewire their brain to decrease the anxious responses so they can tolerate the stimulus. If you or someone you care about are struggling with a real phobia, seek out help from a mental health professional.

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Dr. Shannon McHugh is a Licensed Clinical and Forensic Psychologist in Los Angeles, California. She specializes in assessment and treatment of children, adolescents, and adults who have developmental and social delays, behavioral difficulties, and those who have experienced traumatic events