There's A Good Reason People Are Afraid Of The Dark

Remember when you were a child and your mother asked you to run down to the basement to grab something for her? Her request was followed by a dreaded reminder: "Don't forget to turn off the light!" After you retrieved the item, you paused for a moment with your fingers resting against the light switch. One last cautionary look around before flipping the switch and darting up the stairs like an Olympic sprinter, terrified that some ravenous unseen monster might leap from the shadows and sink its claws into your ankles as you bounded up the steps two at a time. 

Luckily for most of us, this particular creation of the childish imagination never came true. Still, did you ever stop and wonder what really incited such an intangible and seemingly baseless fear in the first place? According to the HuffPost, a healthy fear of the dark is hardly baseless, and there might be a reasonable explanation for it lurking in the deep shadows of the human psyche. 

Fear of the dark - prehistoric origins?

Some experts believe that, when it comes to our fear of that murky time between dusk and dawn, we need to look to another dawn, that of the human species, for answers. "We were probably built throughout evolution, through natural selection, to develop this fear, and the dark would be one of those situations that we're predisposed to fear more easily," Martin Anthony, a professor of psychology at Toronto Metropolitan University, told HuffPost. It's what he and other experts classify as a "prepared fear."

Essentially, it's a fear of potential threats that we can't gauge. Our prehistoric ancestors were likely hesitant to venture into the shadows because of the potential presence of dangerous predators they couldn't see, and as centuries passed, fear of the dark sort of became absorbed into our perpetual cognitive condition, as CNN reports. Even now, we know that it's not the best idea to walk home alone at night or take shortcuts through dark alleyways, so it's by no means a misplaced apprehension you're experiencing if your skin crawls a bit when the lights go out. 

It could be a learned fear

For some, a fear of dark places could have been incited by some traumatic event in the past. Clinical psychologist Dr. Krystal Lewis of the National Institute of Mental Health weighed in on the matter when she explained how certain grown adults "may fear the dark as a result of a negative experience they had at night. Whether that's a robbery or attack or something else, they could associate that experience with nighttime and the dark" (per HuffPost). 

However, Dr. Lewis also shared in a Q&A with Psychwire that most children experience a sort of primal fear of the dark, and most grow out of it after a time. It isn't always some scarring event that haunts us when we try to sleep; for most youngsters, it really is that chaotic uncertainty that looms over their tired heads after their parents kiss them goodnight and shut out the lights. Whether it's caused by imaginary monsters or human monsters who want to break in and hurt us when our guard is down, most everyone experiences a fear of darkness at some point in their life. In fact, Dr. John Mayer, another clinical psychologist, told Glamour magazine in 2017 that this particular fear is "very common" among adults, and by some estimates, as much as 11% of the U.S. population is afraid of the dark. So no — it's not just you.