Top 10 Scary Things

With Halloween round the corner, we here at science made simple are on the hunt for the top ten scary things to look out for. It’s a dangerous world out there, especially when you find a spider in the bathtub.

But why do we even get scared of things? Why do we get physiological reactions to what we perceive around us? Well, it’s all to do with a basic and animalistic instinct you may well have heard of; fight or flight. Effectively, when faced with a danger, we have two simple options. We can fight back, or if we don’t fancy that, we can run away. Either way, our body needs to act, and it needs to act fast. As such our nervous system goes into a kind of overdrive;

  • The heart beats faster to get more blood to the body
  • Our muscles receive more blood and become tense, ready to spring into action
  • We breathe (respire) more to get more oxygen round the body
  • Blood clots more easily, so if we are injured it can heal better.
  • Our pupils dilate so we can take in more information,
  • Adrenaline kicks in to focus our perceptions on the dangers (so we forget to feel hungry!)
  • All this is sure to a cause a bit of overheating, so we also sweat to cool ourselves down.


Now to get your mind buzzing, take a look at our top ten fears and see if any of these have given you the symptoms – fight or flight syndrome!


1.  Public speaking – Glossophobia

Luckily, all of the science made simple team really like public speaking. We’d be in the wrong profession if we didn’t! But, public speaking is many people’s biggest fear. Does your stomach twist up at the thought of presenting in front of people? Do you forget everything you know and feel as though the whole audience is against you? The fear of public speaking is arguably quite rational, but the good news is that means it can be reduced through both technique and experience. science made simple hold science communication training courses to help a variety of people overcome these nerves when presenting.

public speaking audience uk school

Wendy addresses a large audience at a school awards evening


2. Spiders – Arachnophobia

Despite the fact there are no harmful spiders living in the UK, a lot of us still have a fear of them. Perhaps it’s more to do with the way they scuttle and sneak around the skirting board of your bedroom unsuspectingly? However, some pretty awesome and powerful spiders can be found in other parts of the world. The largest species is the Goliath Bird-Eater spider – with such an impressive name you would expect it to do a lot of damage! However, the venom in its bite is relatively mild and more irritating than dangerous, and it rarely actually eats birds – it usually prefers to feast on insects and fellow invertebrates. The smallest species of spider in the world… well, it’s hard to be entirely sure – scientists are always finding new ones – but it is currently the Patu Digua, and when fully grown is no bigger than a pinhead. And the most poisonous spider, has to be the Brazilian Wandering Spider. Just one droplet of its venom is enough to kill about one thousand mice. So, maybe there’s a reason to be scared of spiders after all.

And if that’s not enough, spiders’ venoms are thought to have health benefits against disease, and are also considered a delicacy by some Cambodians and Venezuelans!

Abigail (our trainee presenter) certainly doesn’t have a problem with arachnophobia. Here she is holding a South African tarantula!


3. Confined Spaces – Claustrophobia

Claustrophobia isn’t exclusively a fear of confined spaces, it’s clearer to think of it as a fear of not being able to escape. As fears go, it’s quite an inconvenient one. Claustrophobics often find themselves having to take the stairs instead of the lift (our favourite lazy option), and often don’t like feeling trapped in aeroplanes so can’t travel long distances. While a psychological disorder, claustrophobia can have physical affects on humans, in particular causing anxiety at panic attacks in unexpectedly tense and crowded situations.


4. Heights – Acrophobia

Similar to claustrophobia, the fear of heights can also be severely limiting. It’s not too hard to imagine the swirling dizzyness people get from looking down from a great height, but it can be pretty hard to get over. Of course, there’s always the plunge pool approach – jump out of a plane at 3,000ft enough times, and it might well wear off!


5. Zombies

Technically, zombies do exist. No, really! Just not in human form, you may be pleased to know. Insects such as the jewel wasp have been known to sting and paralyse their cockroach prey, rendering it ‘alive’ but not really mentally conscious. In this way their meal is kept alive and fresh for them to eat back in their den. Nature is a cruel and funny thing.

The fear of human zombies, who become infected and seek out others, is often portrayed in popular media through the horror genre, and it’s not hard to see why. The loneliness of being one of the last humans alive, desperately trying to escape an impeding apocalypse of brain dead warriors, is not something anyone would wish for. Unless of course, you escape and successfully restore the human race, and then want an awesome autobiographical film to be made about you decades afterwards.


6. Thunder and lightning – Astraphobia

…very, very frightening! Our friend Rhys Lightening recently talked about some of his research into lightning at Science Showoff in Cardiff. Did you know that it’s actually really safe to be in a plane or a car during a lightning storm? This is because the lighting wants to form a path between the negatively charged clouds and the positively charged ground. The electrical lightning connection effectively releases the energy tension between these two surfaces; in the process transferring a lot of energy to things which gets in its way. However, when in a car or an aeroplane, the metal exteriors are an excellent conductor which re-route the electrical energy around the people inside. Worth noting if you’re ever caught outside in a dangerous situation. Though it doesn’t make those scary loud noises go away.

Here’s an impressive photo of lightning that Abigail took in Bloemfontein, South Africa.


7. The Dentist – Dentophobia

Ah the dentist. The combination of that whiney drill sound, the fact you can’t see what he’s doing, the pain, the waiting room… is there any part of the whole process which is in any way enjoyable?!


8. Darkness – Nyctophobia

Are you afraid of the dark? There’s not much in the way of complex science to this one! The lack of light means we can’t see potential dangers, which naturally means we get tense and prepared for a whole host of potentially dangers that may be lurking. Of course, the real danger is walking into low objects or falling down ditches, and no amount of heavy breathing, muscle tension or heart-beating can prevent that!

Don’t be put off though, future scientists and engineers. Thomas Edison once claimed the only thing he was ever afraid of was the dark, and he went on to do some pretty amazing stuff!


9. Snakes – Ophidiophobia

Much like our arachnid friend the spider, the snake is a slippery fellow that can appear both calm and highly lethal. Despite the fact that not all snakes are dangerous nor are they that common, it is still one of the most reported phobias humans suffer from. Luckily for us, our intrepid explorer Abigail was happy to handle a snake while in South Africa. Perhaps this will help her out with our upcoming animal show…. Spoiler alert!


10. Everything Else!

Cheese. LEDs, socks, playing cards…. no matter how unusual, individuals can have a fear of it! At the back of the Science Museum in London, on the first floor, is a collection of various artefacts related to the lesser known phobias. Why not check it out if you’re in South Kensington.

Why not ask people you know about what they’re afraid of; you may be surprised and amused. And have plenty of material for practical jokes! In all seriousness, I once knew a fully grown man who had a squirmish fear of cheese. You could have it in front of his face and almost give him a panic attack.



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Posted in Exploring Science