What's the Scariest Thing?

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Snakes, spiders, vampires all scary. But the thing that people fear the most is something that many folks do every day.

"The most common and profound fear is the fear of public speaking," David Rudd, dean of the College of Social and Behavioral Science at the University of Utah, told Life's Little Mysteries. Phobias, defined as the persistent fear of something even though it poses little to no actual harm, may seem irrational. But to those with an aversion to public speaking, the danger feels very real.

"At the core of the problem is that there is a very real threat a threat to one's self-esteem, self-image and self-efficacy," Rudd said. "When we speak in public, we provide the opportunity for others to evaluate us, potentially in harsh terms." What makes this particular phobia all the more frightening is the fact that it can't be dismissed with an "It'll never happen," the way some phobias, like being struck by lightning, can. Most people will face scenarios where they'll have to speak in public, either to a small or large group, according to Rudd.

Most folks with a fear of public speaking will try to avoid the source of their anxiety, but when forced into the situation, they might experience some of the following symptoms: feeling flushed, profuse sweating, trembling, rapid heartbeat, difficulty breathing, dry mouth, nausea and experiencing feelings of overwhelming panic and dread. For the approximately 15 million American adults suffering from social anxiety disorder, the sensation can be downright paralyzing .

Individuals can suffer from phobias of a particular object, animal, food, activity or situation for seemingly no real reason. About 19.2 million American adults have some sort of phobia, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Some popular phobias include spiders, blood, needle injections , certain animals like snakes, bats or dogs, enclosed spaces, flying, heights and lightning.

Other recognized, but far-fetched sounding, phobias include the fear of long words (Hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia), bananas (bananaphobia), bald people (peladophobia), dolls (pediophobia), mirrors (catoptrophobia ), flutes (aulophobia), nosebleeds (epistaxiophobia), poetry (metrophobia), flowers (anthrophobia), sermons (homilophobia), peanut butter sticking to roof of the mouth (arachibutyrophobia) and the fear of hearing good news (euphobia).

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Remy Melina was a staff writer for Live Science from 2010 to 2012. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Communication from Hofstra University where she graduated with honors.