Why are children afraid of the dark, in particular more afraid than adults? Is it an evolutionary mechanism? What causes this?

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    $\begingroup$ Just thinking through it without knowing, I would say that it has to do with desensitization. It is probably similar to a child's panic when they wander away from their parent in a store only to realize they can't find them. An adult in the same situation just rationalizes that the other person is out of sight but it is just a matter of time before they are reunited, as there is nothing to indicate something bad has happened, where as the child doesn't have the frame of reference to evaluate that this is just a temporary state. There may be an evolutionary basis, that adults can rationalize. $\endgroup$
    – AMR
    Sep 21, 2015 at 3:37
  • $\begingroup$ Children are not afraid of the dark until they are told it is scarey. $\endgroup$
    – user9465
    Oct 4, 2015 at 6:54

1 Answer 1


Human's fear of the dark comes from our evolutionary past. Scientists believe it is genetically encoded in our DNA to be afraid of the dark due to the attacks of predators on our ancestors mostly occurring at night. Our ancestors who were afraid of the dark survived predator attacks and thus lived, transferring that trait to us.

Fear is normal and usually occurs when we try something new, something unknown. Children, more than adults, are always experiencing new things so they have more fears which can get to them especially at night.

Fear of the dark is highest among children between 4 and 6 years old, and begins to decline at around 9 years old. Sigmund Freud believed that the fear of darkness is linked to separation anxiety from the absence of our mothers. But psychologists believe it comes from children's highly active imagination.

Fear of the dark forms at the age when children are able to use imagination but not distinguish fantasy from reality. Their heightened imagination allows young children to make a monster out of a shadow. Plus there are not many distractions in a child's mind compared to adults. Most of this fear in children comes from watching TV and reading books. The sounds and images on TV are too stimulating to their young brains and the images in a book might be misinterpreted and provoke an already active imagination.

So the general fear of the dark is natural and evolutionarily derived from our ancestors. But children are more afraid of the dark than adults because they have a more active imagination, they're at an age where they can't distinguish fantasy from reality, and they don't have as many distractions in their head to occupy themselves with so their imagination runs wild.

For more information, see the following links: http://www.lifehack.org/articles/lifestyle/why-are-we-afraid-of-the-dark.html http://www.webmd.com/parenting/features/fear-of-the-dark


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