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Scopophobia or scoptophobia (from Greek σκοπέω - skopeō, "look to, examine"[1] and φόβος - phobos, "fear"[2]) is an anxiety disorder characterized by a morbid fear of being seen or stared at by others.[3] It is related to Ophthalmophobia (from Greek ὀφθαλμός- ophthalmos, "eye"[4]). Scopophobia can also be associated with a pathological fear of drawing attention to oneself.[5]


Generally, phobias have been around for centuries. The concept of social phobias have been referred to as far back as 400 B.C. One of the first references to social phobias, such as Scopophobia, lies in a statement Hippocrates made about the overly shy individual. Hippocrates explained that a shy person, "loves darkness as light" and "thinks every man observes him." [6]

The actual term "Social Phobia" was first coined by French psychiatrist Pierre Janet in 1903. He used this term to describe his patients who exhibited a fear of being observed as they were participating in daily activities such as talking, playing the piano, or writing.[7]

In the 1906 psychiatric journal The Alienist and Neurologist, Scopophobia was described:[8]

Then, there is a fear of being seen and a shamefacedness, which one sees in asylums. [...] We called it scopophobia — a morbid dread of being seen. In minor degree, it is morbid shamefacedness, and the patient covers the face with his or her hands. In greater degree, the patient will shun the visitor and escape from his or her sight where this is possible. Scopophobia is more often manifest among women than among men.

Later, on p. 285 Scopophobia is defined as "a fear of seeing people or being seen, especially of strange faces."[8]


Scopophobia is unique among phobias in that the fear of being looked at is considered both a social phobia and a specific phobia, because it is a specific occurrence which takes place in a social setting.[9] Most phobias typically fall in either one category or the other but Scopophobia can be placed in both. On the other hand, as with most phobias, Scopophobia generally arises from a traumatic event in the person's life. With Scopophobia, it is likely that the person was subjected to public ridicule as a child. It is also possible that a person facing Scopophobia is often subject to public staring, possibly due to a deformity or physical ailment.[5]

According to the Social Phobia/Social Anxiety association, as of 2012, U.S. government data shows social anxiety affects over 7% of the population at any given time. Stretched over a lifetime, the percentage increases to 13%.[10]

Related syndromes[edit]

Though Scopophobia is a solitary disorder, many individuals with Scopophobia are commonly subject to other anxiety disorders as well. Scopophobia has been related to many other irrational fears and phobias. Specific phobias and syndromes that are similar to Scopophobia include Erythrophobia, the fear of blushing (which is found especially in young people), as well as an Epileptic's fear that being looked at may precipitate an attack.[11] Scopophobia is also commonly associated with Schizophrenia and other psychological illnesses. However, it is not considered a symptom of another disease, but rather a psychological problem that can be cured on its own.[12]

Erving Goffman suggested that shying away from casual glances in the street remained one of the characteristic symptoms of psychosis in public.[13] Many Scophophobia patients develop habits of voyeurism or exhibitionism. Another related, yet very different, syndrome to Scopophobia is known as Scopophilia. Schopophilia is not the fear of being looked at, but rather the enjoyment of being looked at or looking at another.

Psychoanalytic views[edit]

Building on Freud's concept of the eye as erogenous zone,[14] psychoanalysts have linked Scopophobia to a (repressed) fear of looking,[15] as well as to an inhibition of exhibitionism.[16] Freud also referred to Scopophobia as a "dread of the evil eye" and "the function of observing and criticizing the self" during his research into the "eye" and "transformed I's."[17]

The equation of being looked at with a feeling of being criticized or despised reveals shame as a motivating force behind Scopophobia.[18] In the self-consciousness of adolescence, with its increasing awareness of the Other as constitutive of the looking glass self, shame may exacerbate feelings of Erythrophobia and Scopophobia.[19]

Symptoms and effects[edit]

Individuals with Scopophobia generally exhibit symptoms in social situations when attention is brought upon them. A specific example of a social situation in which this may occur would be speaking in front of a large group of people. Several other triggers exist to cause social anxiety. Some examples include: Being introduced to new people, being teased and/or criticized, embarrassing easily, and even answering a cell phone call in public.[10]

Often Scopophobia will result in symptoms common with other anxiety disorders.[20] Many symptoms of Scopophobia include: an irrational feeling of panic, feeling of terror, feeling of dread, rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, nausea, dry mouth, trembling, anxiety, and extreme avoidance measures taken. [21] Other symptoms related to Scopophobia are: hyperventilation, muscle tension, dizziness, uncontrollable shaking or trembling, excessive eye watering or redness of the eyes.[9]

A great deal of research has been done to link Scopophobia to irregular sexual tendencies. Scopophobia can potentially affect one's sexual maturity: "According to this line of thinking, the failure to develop a mature sexuality could lead to an obsessive Scopophilia (exhibitionism and voyeurism) or its opposite, Scopophobia (the fear of being seen)." [22]


There are several different options for treatment of Scopophobia. One such treatment option for those facing Scopophobia is to be stared at for a prolonged period of time and then describe their feelings. The hope is that the individual will either be desensitized to being stared at or discover the root of their Scopophobia.[9]

Exposure therapy is another treatment that is commonly prescribed. There are five steps to exposure therapy:

  • evaluation
  • feedback
  • developing a fear hierarchy
  • exposure
  • building

In the evaluation stage, the Scopophobic individual would describe their fear to the therapist and try to find out when and why this fear developed. The feedback stage is when the therapist offers a way of treatment for the phobia. When one develops a fear hierarchy, they create a list of scenarios involving their fear, with each one becoming worse and worse. Exposure involves exposing oneself to the scenarios and situations of their fear hierarchy. Finally, building is when the patient has become comfortable with one step and moves on to the next step.[23]

As with any problems humans have, there are support groups for Scopophobic individuals. Being around other people who face the same issues can often create a more comfortable environment.[24]

In extreme cases of Scopophobia, it is possible for the subject to be prescribed anti–anxiety medications.[5] The medications that can be prescribed include benzodiazepines, antidepressants, or beta-blockers.[23] Suggested treatments for Scopophobia include Hypnotherapy, Neuro-Linguistic Programming, and Energy Psychology [25]

Cultural examples[edit]

  • It has been noted that Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window has a subtext of Scopophobia [29]
  • Scopophobia has also been used as a term to describe the reluctance of historians to consider photographs as historical documents.[30]
  • Scopophobia is the name of a DvD release by the band Therapy?. The DvD includes footage of their tour for the 2003 album High Anxiety.
  • The character Ryōshi Morino in Ōkami-san (novel series) faces this. He wears his hair long to avoid eye contact, and breaks down into a whimpering mess when he notices people staring at him.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ σκοπέω, Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, on Perseus
  2. ^ φόβος, Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, on Perseus
  3. ^ The Free Medical Dictionary, 2012,
  4. ^ ὀφθαλμός, Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, on Perseus
  5. ^ a b c Duffey, Tammy. "Phobias: Scopophobia, The Fear of Being Stared At". Yahoo. Retrieved 8 November 2012. 
  6. ^ Cuncic, Alan. "A Brief History of Social Anxiety Disorder". About.Com. Retrieved 8 November 2012. 
  7. ^ Leora R. Heckleman, Franklin S. Schneierer; Social Phobia Diagnosis, Assessment, Treatment. 1995
  8. ^ a b "The Alienist and Neurologist", edited by Charles Hamilton Hughes, 1906, p. 165, p. 285 (digitized by Google)
  9. ^ a b c "Scopophobia". All About Counseling. Retrieved 8 November 2012. 
  10. ^ a b "Social Anxiety Fact Sheet". Social Phobia/Social Anxiety Association. Retrieved 8 November 2012. 
  11. ^ M. Matsuura/Y. Inoue, Neuropsychiatric Issues in Epilepsy (2010) p.
  12. ^ "Scopophobia". The Free Medical Dictionary. Retrieved 8 November 2012. 
  13. ^ Erving Goffman, Relations in Public (1972) p 415
  14. ^ Sigmund Freud, On Sexuality (PFL 7) p. 84
  15. ^ D. W. Allen, The Fear of Looking (1974) p. 6
  16. ^ O. Fenichel, The Psychoanalytic Theory of Neurosis (1946) p. 177
  17. ^ Henelly Jr., Mark (September 1998). "The 'Surveillance of Desiree': Freud, Foucault, and Villette". Victorian Literature and Culture 26 (2): 421–440. Retrieved 6 November 2012. 
  18. ^ Fenichel, p. 139
  19. ^ Fenichel, p. 112
  20. ^ "What is Scopophobia?". Wise Retrieved 8 November 2012. 
  21. ^ "Symptoms of Scopophobia". Health Grades. Retrieved 8 November 2012. 
  22. ^ Albrechtslund, Anders (2008). "© 2008 School of Criminal Justice, University at AlbanyJournal of Criminal Justice and Popular Culture, 15 (2), 2008. Surveillance and Ethics in Film: Rear Window and The Conversation". Journal of Criminal Justice and Popular Culture 15 (2). Retrieved 8 November 2012. 
  23. ^ a b "Treatment and Cure: Two Very Different Things". Change That's Right Now. Retrieved 8 November 2012. 
  24. ^ Duffey, Tammy. "Phobia's: Scopophobia, The Fear of Being Stared At". Yahoo. Retrieved 30 October 2012. 
  25. ^ "Scopophobia Treatment". Phobia Treatment. Retrieved 8 November 2012. 
  26. ^ Michael Ende, The Neverending Story (1983) p. 260-1
  27. ^ Albrechtslund, p.136
  28. ^ Donaldson, Scott (Winter 2003). "The Averted Gaze in Hemingway's Fiction". The Sewanee Review 111 (1). Retrieved 8 November 2012. 
  29. ^ Howe, Lawrence (Winter 2008). "Through the Looking Glass: Reflexivity, Reciprocality, and Defenestration in Hitchcock's Rear Window". College Literature 35 (1): 16–37. 
  30. ^ Hartmann, Wolfram (1999). The Colonising Camera: Photographs in the Making of Namibian History. Ohio University Press. p. 7. ISBN 978-0821412619. 
  31. ^ Neilstein, Vince. "Exclusive Premiere: War from a Harlot's mouth, "Scopophobia"". Metal Sucks. Retrieved 8 November 2012. 

Further reading[edit]

Moss Hart, Lady in the Dark (New York 1941]

External links[edit]