Why Are We Afraid of the Dark? Can We Be Fearless?

Why Are We Afraid of the Dark?

Why Are We Afraid of the Dark?

You’ve probably felt a fear of the dark for as long as you can remember, or at the very least, you’ve felt a relative uneasiness in the dark before. If you’re genuinely afraid of the dark as a functioning adult, you’re not alone–it’s even more common than a fear of heights. But at some point in your life, you didn’t care about the dark at all. Babies just don’t care. Perhaps we should be asking why we become afraid of the dark?

People Who Don’t Fear the Dark

As we mentioned earlier, newborns show no fear of the dark for a while, which, logically makes sense. It’s not like you have any concept of light before you’re born, and wombs typically don’t involve lightbulbs. So when baby you was in the dark, that was just par for the course for your 9 month incubation.

Many of us reading are perhaps confused when we say “afraid of the dark.” After all, the average person doesn’t have many issues sleeping with the lights out (apparently up to 17% of adults sleep with the light on according to a UK poll). The National Sleep Foundation has some other stats on bedroom habits, and while we couldn’t find data on being afraid of the dark, less than 50% of respondents considered having a dark room super important to their sleep.

But suffice to say that the average person doesn’t feel super significant anxiety when it’s dark at home. We’re more talking about a general preference. Ergo, most people generally prefer to do things during the day or in lit environments. 

Anecdotally, blind people tend to not care about the dark as well. Also intuitive.

People Who Aren’t Afraid of Anything At All

There are a handful of people who experience no fear at all! Like period. One of the most prominent is a patient known only as S.M.–likely to keep her identity private. Well, she’s actually also known as the “woman with no fear,” but official medical documentation lists her as S.M. or SM-046. That’s neither here nor there.

S.M. experiences no fear, having been tested with traditional common fears (snakes, spiders), popular horror movies, and the like. None of which were able to elicit a fear reaction. She’s also said to feel no anxiety regarding personal space, and is unaffected by music designed to get under your skin. 

Because she feels no fear, she’s also generally unable to preemptively avoid danger. We would probably feel anxious walking down an alley alone at night–especially in an unsafe city (where S.M. has lived). The woman with no fear would find this scenario perfectly normal.

Sure, some people are just stone cold, and you might want to discount her lack of fear due to her knowing she was being tested. Then you’d be surprised, and perhaps impressed, that S.M. has been held at both knife and gunpoint, and was almost killed in a bout of domestic violence. Multiple times. During none of these situations did S.M. exhibit conventional desperation or some such. 

Can the Woman With No Fear, Fear?

S.M. isn’t alone in possessing little to no fear, a large part of her condition is attributed with an impairment of the amygdala. But her and people like her, in volunteer testing, have reported panic attacks when their brains are deprived of oxygen. So while S.M. and people like her fear no external threat, depriving the brain of oxygen is the best way to get in someone’s head. 

Anyway, that’s probably why drowning is considered one of the worst ways to go.

We Learn to Be Afraid of the Dark

Can We Be Fearless?

There are a lot of benefits to being afraid of the dark. Well… There are when you don’t have the power of technology to steamroll any threats in the dark. But back in the day when humans weren’t on top, nocturnal predators were a real concern. As we all know, we humans love knowing things, and many of our fears revolve around not knowing things. 

So it’s reasonable to be afraid of the dark because you don’t know what’s in it. But you already knew that.

There’s also the big thing about kids having super active imaginations. So during your very formative years, your brain is making up all sorts of unexpected and unknown things that could happen when they’re shrouded in darkness. Some people just carry that association into adulthood.

But more recent theories seem to suggest something else. Children also don’t really start spending time away from their parents until nighttime. So now you’re associating the anxiety of being without your parents with the dark. Combine that with a universal fear of the unknown, and you’ve got yourself learning how to fear the dark. 

Face some common fear identification here.