Neophobia or the Fear of New Things

Phobias are a form of anxiety disorder.
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Neophobia, or the fear of new things, is a relatively complicated phobia. In one sense, humans are creatures of habit. We may spend decades in the same house, working for the same employer, driving the same car and even eating the same thing every Friday night. On the other hand, humans are also adventurers. We long to know what is just around the next bend. We eagerly await raises, promotions, and vacations. We constantly strive for knowledge and achievement.

Neophobia challenges the human condition. In its mildest forms, it may not even be recognizable as a fear. Some people are bigger risk-takers than others, and there is no crime in preferring a comfortable routine. More serious neophobia is a true phobia that can become life-limiting.

Neophobia in Children and the Elderly

Small children often demonstrate signs of neophobia. The entire world is new to them, and resistance to change may just be an innate need to feel like something is constant in their ever-widening worlds. Likewise, many elderly people develop mild neophobia. As the effects of aging catch up to us, we may begin to feel like our days of adventure are over, preferring to remain in comfortable, familiar surroundings.

Again, just feeling comfortable in your own surroundings or in a daily routine and being somewhat reluctant to change, doesn't mean you suffer from neophobia.

Moderate to Severe Neophobia

Regardless of age, moderate to severe neophobia can have a serious impact on your daily life. It is easy to become stuck in a rut, avoiding risks that could lead to greater personal fulfillment or societal impacts. Some people make the conscious decision not to shine at work or school, some refuse to try new vacation destinations and others avoid opportunities to make new friends.

Neophobia may be related to the twin fears of success and failure. To truly succeed or fail, it is necessary to take a risk. Both outcomes are potentially life-changing, forcing you to adapt to new circumstances. If you suffer from neophobia, you may feel that the potential benefits of success do not outweigh the potential upheaval to your life.

Food Neophobia

Food neophobia is especially common in small children. So-called "picky eaters," who are unwilling to eat more than a handful of familiar items, may actually suffer from food neophobia. Most kids outgrow food neophobia as they mature, but those who do not outgrow it by young adulthood may struggle with the fear throughout their lives.


Cenophobia, or the fear of new ideas, is a subset of neophobia. The fear halts progress and can ultimately lead to disaster. While it is smart not to accept every snake oil salesman at face value, new ideas and ways of thinking about a situation are critical to success.

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  • American Psychiatric Association. (1994). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th Ed.). Washington, DC: Author.