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.[1]

Elephants and mice[edit]

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.[2]

Patron saint[edit]

Gertrude of Nivelles is the patron saint of murophobia, and is also invoked against rats and mice in general.[3]

In popular culture[edit]

Woman displaying musophobia

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.[4]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ 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.
  2. ^ Bell, R.C. (1983), The Boardgame Book, p. 119. Exeter Books.
  3. ^ Gertrude of Nivelles
  4. ^ Cameron, Alasdair (2004). Crash Course Psychiatry. Elsevier Ltd. ISBN 0-7234-3340-2.