Friday, September 13, 2013

Do we all carry around huge sacks of specific phobias?

Specific phobias are extreme and persistent fears and avoidance of specific situations or things like dogs, flying, spiders etc. They are the most common mental disorders in the U.S - in. a year 9% of U.S. adults have a specific phobia.

Now and then I read a truly incredible statistic. On a web page about the extreme fear of dust (amathophobia) there was this gem:

“It is unknown how many experience amathophobia, it has been approximated that nearly 20 trillion adults annually suffer from some sort of specific phobia.”

A trillion is a thousand billion, or one followed by twelve zeroes. What’s my share of that outrageously large number? According to Wikipedia the world population is roughly 7 billion, where a billion is one followed by nine zeroes.

If we divided 20 trillion by 7 billion, we would find a lower bound for the number of annual phobias per person (by assuming everyone was an adult) -  2,857 phobias. Note that we can cancel out nine zeroes before we even enter those numbers in a calculator. That’s a huge sack of phobias for us each  to be carrying around.

Dividing by 365.25 to get the number per day, that’s still almost 8 (7.82) phobias. If we are awake for 16 hours per day, that means a phobia pops up roughly every two hours.  

Today is Friday the 13th, so some people also are thinking about Triskadekaphobia.

When writing a speech you can choose to make numbers comprehensible by describing them per person per day, or huge and incomprehensible if you multiply them by the population of a country or the world.

The image of a woman with a sack came from Wikimedia Commons.

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