Chromophobia: symptoms, causes and treatment

Chromophobia , chromatophobia or crematophobia is a persistent irrational fear or aversion to colors. It is a specific type of phobia and is characterized by experiencing an irrational and excessive fear towards colors . Their presentation may vary in each case, so the feared colors may be different for each individual.

Chromophobia is not a very common type of specific phobia, and data on its prevalence indicate that only a minority of the world’s population could suffer from this disorder.


The most feared colors in chromophobia are usually red and white, although some studies suggest that a person with chromophobia can develop a phobic fear of any color.

Data on its etiology is scarce today, however, it is argued that chromophobia is usually a conditioned response.


Chromophobia is an anxiety disorder. Specifically, it is an alteration included in specific phobias.

The dreaded element of chromophobia can sometimes be difficult to pin down. However, it is argued that the phobic stimulus of this disorder is colors.

That is, a person with chromophobia has an excessive, irrational, uncontrollable and persistent fear of colors.

It is common for the typical fear of chromophobia not to be presented as a response to all colors, but to develop in a particular way in relation to some or some specific colors. In this sense, red and white seem to be the most feared colors in this disorder.

People with chromophobia experience heightened feelings of anxiety whenever they are exposed to their feared stimuli i.e. the color or colors they fear in a phobic way.

To determine the fear of colors as belonging to chromophobia, it is necessary that it is:

  1. Irrational
  2. Excessive
  3. Uncontrollable.
  4. Persistent
  5. Let the feared element lead to evasion.


The symptomatology of chromophobia is characterized by being anxious. This appears as part of the fear response that gives rise to the feared color and is often highly unpleasant and distressing for the person.

The anxiety manifestations of chromophobia are usually intense. Likewise, they are characterized by negatively affecting the subject’s quality of life and reducing their functionality.

In general, the typical symptoms of chromophobia can be divided into: physical, cognitive and behavioral.

Physical symptoms

Physical symptoms are probably the most unpleasant manifestations for the subject with chromophobia. They are characterized by producing a series of modifications in the normal functioning of the organism.

These symptoms are caused by an increase in the activity of the person’s autonomic nervous system. This increase in activity is generated by feelings of fear, so that physical manifestations appear when the subject is exposed to their feared color.

In general, a person with chromophobia may show any of the following symptoms when exposed to their dreaded stimulus.

  1. Increase in heart rate.
  2. Increased respiratory rate.
  3. excessive sweating
  4. body tension
  5. Headaches and/or stomachaches.
  6. Dry mouth.
  7. Nausea, dizziness and/or vomiting.

Cognitive symptoms

The physical symptomatology of chromophobia appears as a consequence of the elaboration of a series of irrational and incongruous thoughts about the feared color.

Colors do not pose a real risk to people, but the subject with chromophobia interprets their feared color as highly threatening.

Behavioral symptoms

Finally, chromophobia is characterized by producing two behavioral symptoms: avoidance and flight.

Avoid refers to all the behaviors that the subject develops in order to avoid contact with his feared color. This manifestation can report broad negative consequences for the person, as the spaces avoided can be multiple.

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On the other hand, escape is the behavior that the subject initiates when he is in contact with his feared color, due to the fear and discomfort it causes.


To establish the diagnosis of chromophobia, the following criteria must be met:

– Intense fear or anxiety for one or more specific colors (phobic element).

-The phobic element almost always causes immediate fear or anxiety.

-The phobic element is actively avoided or resisted with intense fear or anxiety.

-Fear or anxiety is disproportionate to the real danger represented by the phobic element and the sociocultural context.

-The fear, anxiety or avoidance is persistent and usually lasts for six or more months.

-Fear, anxiety, or avoidance causes clinically significant discomfort or deterioration in social, work, or other important areas of functioning.

-The change is not better explained by the symptoms of another mental disorder.


Currently, chromophobia is considered a conditioned response. That is, this disorder appears due to the association of a certain color with specific negative attributes.

Most commonly, conditioning is done through the experience of negative or traumatic experiences related to the feared color. However, it can also be developed indirectly (viewing images) or informative.


The first-choice treatment for more specific phobias (including chromophobia) is usually psychotherapy. Specifically, treatments that include the technique of exposure or systematic desensitization are usually applied.

These treatments are based on exposing the subject to their feared colors in a controlled and progressive way, in order to get used to them, learn to manage their anxiety response in those moments and overcome their phobic fear.

To facilitate the process, it is usually useful to incorporate relaxation techniques, as they allow the subject to reduce the subject’s state of tension and anxiety.

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  1. American Psychiatric Association (2013). DSM-5 Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Washington: American Psychiatric Publishing.
  2. Antony MM, Brown TA, Barlow DH. Response to hyperventilation and inhalation of 5.5% CO2 of individuals with specific types of phobia, panic disorder, or no mental disorder. Am J Psychiatry 1997; 154: 1089-1095.
  3. Barlow, DH (1988). Anxiety and its disorders: the nature and treatment of anxiety and panic. New York, Guilford.
  4. Muris P, Schmidt H, Merckelbach H. The structure of specific phobia symptoms among children and adolescents. Behav Res Ther 1999; 37: 863–868.
  5. Ost LG, Svensson L, Hellstrom K, Lindwall R. One-session treatment of specific phobias in youth: a randomized clinical trial. J Consult Clin Psychol 2001; 69: 814–824.

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