Fear of mice and rats
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Fear of mice and rats is one of the least common specific phobias. It is sometimes referred to as musophobia (from Greek μῦς "mouse") or murophobia (a coinage from the taxonomic adjective "murine" for the family Muridae that encompasses mice and rats, and also Latin mure "mouse/rat"), or as suriphobia, from French souris, "mouse".
The phobia, as an unreasonable and disproportionate fear, is distinct from reasonable concern about rats and mice contaminating food supplies, which may potentially be universal to all times, places, and cultures where stored grain attracts rodents, which then consume or contaminate the food supply.
In many cases a phobic fear of mice is a socially induced conditioned response, combined with (and originated in) the startle response (a response to an unexpected stimulus) common in many animals, including humans, rather than a real disorder. At the same time, as is common with specific phobias, an occasional fright may give rise to abnormal anxiety that requires treatment.
Fear of mice may be treated by any standard treatment for specific phobias. The standard treatment of animal phobia is systematic desensitization, and this can be done in the consulting room (in vivo), or in hypnosis (in vitro). Some clinicians use a combination of both in vivo and in vitro desensitization during treatment. It is also helpful to encourage patients to experience some positive associations with mice: thus, the feared stimulus is paired with the positive rather than being continuously reinforced by the negative.
Elephants and mice
There is a common folk belief that elephants are afraid of mice. The earliest reference to this claim is probably by Pliny the Elder in his Naturalis Historia, book VIII. As translated by Philemon Holland (1601), "Of all other living creatures, they [elephants] cannot abide a mouse or a rat." Numerous zoos and zoologists have shown that elephants can be conditioned not to react. MythBusters performed an experiment in which, indeed, multiple elephants did attempt to avoid a mouse, showing there may be some basis for this belief. Regardless, elephantine murophobia remains the basis of various jokes and metaphors. The classical board game Dou Shou Qi has the Rat kill an Elephant, and multiple editions of the rule book mentions that the Rat would crawl into the Elephant's ears to gnaw into its brain. This is considered to be a folk tale.
In popular culture
An exaggerated, phobic fear of mice and rats has traditionally been depicted as a stereotypical trait of women, with numerous books, cartoons, television shows, and films portraying women screaming and jumping onto chairs or tables at the sight of a mouse. Despite this portrayal, murophobia has always been experienced by individuals of both sexes. However, women are twice as likely as men to suffer from specific phobias, such as musophobia.
- In George Orwell's novel Nineteen Eighty-Four the protagonist Winston Smith has a phobic fear of rats. Strapping a cage of hungry rats to his face is a technique used to get him to implicate his lover in thoughtcrimes.
- In the TV Series Seinfeld, Frank Costanza has a profound fear of mice. In the episode 'The Raincoats, Part 2', Frank threatens to move houses after George suggests there could be mice in their house. Kramer also appears to be afraid of mice in that same episode.
- In Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Henry Jones, Sr. is described as being "scared to death" of rats.
- The titular character in the Doraemon series is scared of mice, due to having had his robotic ears bitten off by mice due to a mistaken order by Sewashi, as decipted in 1995 short film 2112: The Birth of Doraemon.
- The incarnation of Princess Zelda from The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks will freeze in fear if she is met by rats.
- Madame Medusa, the main antagonist of Disney's The Rescuers (1977), an adaptation of Margery Sharp's children's novels, suffers from extreme musophobia, becoming hysterical upon encountering the film's protagonists, a pair of friendly mice, while aiming to protect herself by jumping onto a chair and firing her shotgun. Ironically, her far more threatening pet crocodiles hardly make her uneasy.
- Tin Top from Roary the Racing Car exhibited musophobia in the episode "Tin Top Gets Scared".
- Injun Joe is afraid of mice and rats in the 1995 anime movie, Huck and Tom's Mississippi Adventure.
- In the video game Donkey Kong Country 3: Dixie Kong's Double Trouble! the rideable elephant Ellie is afraid of rats and must throw a barrel at them.
- Bloodsport, as portrayed in “The Suicide Squad (2021)” is afraid of rats, which is used many times for comedic effect.
- Kraft D & Kraft T (2010). Use of in vivo and in vitro desensitization in the treatment of mouse phobia: review and case study. Contemporary Hypnosis, 27 (3): 184-194.
- Bell, R.C. (1983), The Boardgame Book, p. 119. Exeter Books.
- Gertrude of Nivelles
- Cameron, Alasdair (2004). Crash Course Psychiatry. Elsevier Ltd. ISBN 0-7234-3340-2.