What makes people afraid of the dark? © Getty Images

What makes people afraid of the dark?

Achluophobia, lygophobia, myctophobia, nyctophobia, scotophobia - whatever you call your fear of the dark, it's good to know why you have it.

Asked by: Eric Taylor, By Email

Advertisement

Loss of vision. Sight is our strongest sense and some of our natural predators, such as the big cats, had better night vision than our ancestors did. Our ancestors also had to watch out for enemy raids; even today, we may justifiably fear being burgled.

But our greatest fears come from our own minds. Many children, and some adults, are terrified of the monster under the bed. This is called the ‘sense of presence’ and is often associated with sleep paralysis, when you wake up unable to move. These monsters are due to unusual activity in areas of the brain. Then there are all those ideas that we don’t like to face – our shame, guilt, anger, anxiety or whatever it may be. These seem far worse in the dark because our brains are deprived of the visual input that keeps them busy and suppresses those unwanted thoughts.


Advertisement

Subscribe to BBC Focus magazine for fascinating new Q&As every month and follow @sciencefocusQA on Twitter for your daily dose of fun science facts.