Monday, February 8, 2010

Variation in claustrophobia, fear of dark with closed/opened eyes

Today we went to Sun City, South Africa. This popular tourist spot has a good collection of water sports, and we did quite many of these. Among the ones available was a water-slide made out of a closed, dark tunnel. Not a regular water-slide (this was absent at uShaka in Durban), since instead of a regular open-top, this one was completely closed/covered - essentially a narrow, hollow pipe, into which you're released to spend the next 60-odd seconds of your life in near-complete darkness, whizzing downwards through a highly-curved tunnel at a high (and increasing) speed, ultimately splashing into a pool of water. The image below is a decent approximation of what the slide looks like (from inside).

Screams were not uncommon (Source:

I took this slide and enjoyed it quite a lot. When I took it the second time, I conducted a tiny experiment. I compared the levels of my fear with my eyes closed and with my eyes open. I observed that I feared the slide relatively more when I would open my eyes, although there would only be pitch-darkness whether my eyes were open or not (it's not exactly clear at this moment whether the fear was claustrophobic, or only resulting from darkness, or both).

I hypothesize that when I opened my eyes and saw complete darkness, my brain actually saw this darkness. It concluded that I'm inside a narrow and completely dark pipe, and this caused me some fear. In contrast, when I had my eyes closed, the darkness that was visible now was the regular darkness when someone closes his eyes. In this case the brain probably doesn't conclude anything, since the surroundings are unknown to it. It probably doesn't automatically fear this unknown.

The above thoughts are crude and elementary. Further research is needed (if not already done) to understand if and how the brain interprets darkness in two different ways, depending upon whether an individual's eyes are open or closed.


  1. I went on a similar ride today, and I nearly hyperventilated! I had my eyes open the whole time and was not expecting to be in total darkness for so long. I was actually crying after the ride was over! At the end of the day, I decided to be brave and go on it again but with my eyes closed. It was still a bit scary, but much more tolerable! I had the same thought process as you, that the darkness with eyes closed would just be normal and I was glad that it worked. I still don't think I will want to go on it again in the future though!

  2. @Colleen Farquhar

    Hello Colleen, I'm quite happy to read your comment, particularly because you experienced and felt things quite similar to how and what I had felt :)