Personality Type and Fear of Flying the (Not-So-Friendly?) Skies
If you’re afraid of flying, chances are someone has regaled you with information about other ways you could die. You’re much more likely to be killed in a car wreck than a plane crash, for example. The odds of getting struck by lightning are higher too.
True as these oft-repeated facts may be, they’re little comfort to someone who is in the throes of anxiety whilst soaring 34,000 feet up in the air, strapped to a narrow seat by nothing more than a lap belt. (Your heart might be beating faster now at the very thought.)
The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that aviophobia, or the fear of flying, affects anywhere from 2.5% to 6.5% of the U.S. population – up to 21 million people. Of course, many more suffer from flight-related fears that are less extreme than an outright phobia, and often, that anxiety has little to do with thoughts of plummeting to a fiery demise.
What might be fueling the fear of flying, and how do our personality traits contribute to that fear? To investigate these questions, we asked our community whether they agreed or disagreed with the statement, “You are afraid of flying.” Overall, 20% agreed, reinforcing the idea that while most people are comfortable with air travel, the fear of flight is a very real challenge for many. This becomes more apparent when we look at the Mind and Identity personality aspects.
Which personality types are comfortable flying the friendly skies, and which ones think those skies are terrifying? We break down the data in more detail below.
Although the differences among the Roles were very minor and agreement was low, let’s take a moment to think about why some members of each group might be afraid to fly.
Diplomats (22% agreeing)
Diplomats agreed with our statement the most, mainly due to their Feeling trait. Sensitive and expressive, Diplomats allow themselves to feel what they feel, including fear. That’s how they cope with their emotions. For these personalities, logical rationales are unlikely to suppress legitimate feelings of fear, especially in extreme cases of aviophobia. The Intuitive trait isn’t much help here either, as an overly active imagination can feed fear.
Sentinels and Explorers (20% and 19%)
As Observant personalities, Sentinels and Explorers are usually keenly aware of their surroundings, and on an airplane, they may scrutinize the equipment, the crew, their fellow passengers, and every little sound they hear or bit of turbulence they feel – a habit that could actually increase feelings of nervousness.
Sentinels like routine and predictability, and if they usually get around by more conventional means like their car or the subway, then the less familiar experience of flying could be quite intimidating. Explorers, who can be restless, may dislike the idea of being penned up in a tight space for a long period of time, with little freedom to move about and limited options for entertainment.
Despite their logical, rational approach to life, Analysts’ Intuitive trait can make them prone to speculating about what-if scenarios. If there’s one thing about flying that probably bothers Analyst personalities most, it’s the fact that they’re not in control. Like all other passengers, they are subject to the pilots’ skills, the flight attendants’ instructions, the constraints of their seating arrangement, and any number of other factors for the duration of the flight. If something were to go wrong, there’s generally not much a passenger can do about it, and that alone is reason enough to make Analysts feel uneasy.
The differences among the Strategies were more pronounced: Introverts were 5% more likely than Extraverts to agree that they’re afraid of flying (23% vs. 18%, respectively), while Turbulent personalities were 9% more likely than Assertive personalities to agree (24% vs. 15%). Let’s consider why this might be.
Constant Improvement (26% agreeing)
While Turbulent personalities like Constant Improvers might not be more prone to any single phobia, they are likely to experience stronger symptoms. They tend to be worriers in general, and they’re more sensitive to stress, so concerns about flying may affect them more. As Introverts, Constant Improvers are focused inward and may fixate more on their inner thoughts and fears. Furthermore, Introverts like to have control over their environment, since they tend to be bothered by things like noise and crowded spaces.
Adding this all up, it’s easy to see how Constant Improvers could develop any number of broad or specific fears related to flying, stressing out about anything from crashes or heights to claustrophobia, germs, or terrorists. Worst of all may be the concern that all this stress could lead to some incident – a physical illness or a panic attack, perhaps – while they’re stuck in their seat, unable to do anything about it until they land.
Turbulent Advocates (INFJ-T) and Turbulent Mediators (INFP-T), both of whom are Diplomats and Constant Improvers, agreed with our statement the most (28% each). Any of the off-putting aspects of air travel that we’ve discussed could become quite distressing to these thoughtful, creative, quiet, and sensitive personality types. Having a tendency to feel misunderstood, Advocates and Mediators may also keep their fears to themselves, hesitating to seek support from someone who might be able to help them overcome their anxiety.
Social Engagement (22%)
Although Social Engagers are also Turbulent personalities who face many of the same issues as Constant Improvers, their Extraversion can help them cope somewhat better with the prospect of flying. Extraverts often enjoy stimulating environments. The bright lights, loud sounds, and busy crowds of an airport don’t necessarily make flying more fun, but these elements are not as stressful to them. Social Engagers may even be able to find useful distractions in the bustling activity around them or in striking up a conversation with the person sitting next to them on the plane.
Confident Individualism (16%)
Personality types with the Assertive Identity are at an advantage when it comes to air travel because they tend to have an “everything’s going to be alright” mentality. Since Confident Individualists prefer to rely on themselves whenever possible, ceding control of their circumstances while in the air is no doubt the main source of any anxiety that they may feel about flying. The unpredictability of their fellow passengers will also make these Introverts uncomfortable to a degree. Still, their inner sense of calm and self-confidence goes a long way toward easing these concerns.
People Mastery (14%)
As Extraverts, People Masters are more comfortable than Confident Individualists with relying on other people and trusting an airline to get them safely to their destination. The social exposure and external stimulation of air travel do not concern these personalities as much and may even enhance their energy. Most of all, their Assertive Identity makes them confident that they can work out any issues that arise – to the extent that those issues are in their control. Of course, the fact that some circumstances are indeed beyond their control does make some People Masters anxious about flying.
Assertive Debaters (ENTP-A) were the least likely of all personality types to agree (11%). Confident, outgoing, and rational, Assertive Debaters can shrug off most external stresses and unlikely dangers, and flying is no different. Fond as they are of a good debate, these personalities may actually be the first to point out just how illogical another person’s fear of flying is, citing factual evidence or the sort of trivia that others can find frustratingly inane – like the fact that fatal shark attacks occur more frequently than fatal plane crashes.
That said, with 11% agreeing, it’s clear that even some Assertive Debaters are afraid of flying, and these individuals are more likely to be among those who suffer from a full-fledged psychological phobia.
Perhaps the most important thing to keep in mind when it comes to the fear of flying is that a phobia is, by definition, an intense, irrational fear, and it can happen to anyone, regardless of personality type. People who suffer from aviophobia may know, intellectually, that there’s little reason to fear flying – they just do, and that can be a very difficult thing to control and overcome.
Even those who have less intense flight-related fears, especially personality types with Introverted, Feeling, or Turbulent traits, often find that their anxiety interferes with their day-to-day life.
If you are afraid of flying, try out some different strategies and see if they help ease your anxiety. Read up on air-travel safety information ahead of time. Distract yourself on the plane by reading something, watching a movie, or chatting with your neighbors. Practice deep breathing. And if nothing seems to work, consider speaking to a professional who can help you overcome your fear.
How about you? Do you have a fear of flying? How do you deal with the stress of air travel? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below.