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Fear of the Dark: A Veil over the Rational Brain
Electricity does more than let us stay up at night without wasting valuable candles—it also helps curb a common phobia. Join us as we explore the fear of the dark.
It’s hard to ignore the hair-raising effects of a dark basement or a pitch-black stretch of forest at night, even when our rational brain tells us there’s nothing to fear, and few would blame a child for fearing a monster under their bed. But many people (about 5%, according to a recent Gallup poll) retain their fear of darkness well into adulthood, allowing the shadows to stoke their imaginations and sending their bodies into a fight-or-flight response. Others may simply find it difficult to sleep in total darkness, their anxiety leading the way to actual insomnia.
Known as achluophobia or nyctophobia, fear of the dark is most likely an evolutionary trait. Our early ancestors slept outdoors, and those who stayed by the fire to avoid things that went bump in the night—such as lions, snakes, or venomous tabbies—were more likely to see the light of day. Regardless of its cause, the condition is best treated through exposure therapy. Psychologists recommend starting by sitting in a dark room while holding a friend's hand and slowly graduating to lying in bed alone, finally safe amid the shroud.