I'm an archaeologist, but I am not the Indiana Jones type (tall and brawny) -- but rather, a very petite female (4'9" to be precise). One might say, that I lack the muscle tone and strength to do all the physical labor one would expect from an archaeologist, and they are certainly accurate. But what I lack in physical strength, I make up for in my small stature (and brains -- at least in terms of archaeology). For instance, I am often the only one on the team able to fit and crawl into tiny tomb openings and document the archaeological site lurking underneath the surface, or slide down into a tight pit and document an artifact, or squeeze inside an ancient chamber and able to report back to the rest of the team what I have discovered. Tight spaces have never been an issue for me.
However, on a day-off from excavating in Egypt, myself and a few crew members went to the Pyramids of Giza, of course. We had the opportunity to enter and all of us fared the "Ascending Passage" with ease, though my tallish coworker started muttering complaints about how tight it was (but no one thought anything of it because it was indeed tight... but we all expected that... and none of us really cared all that much because we were in the FREAKIN' PYRAMIDS). But as we continued to ascend it got dramatically hotter and humid (less ventilation) and although we reached the Grand Gallery, where it's more spacious than the "Ascending Passage," the optical allusion is such that the walls are closing in on you. It is here, in the heart of the pyramid, that my coworker must have been feeling a "fight or flight" instinct because she requested that we return around that instant. She was afraid that she couldn't breathe. Though we are archaeologists in the most iconic Wonder of the Ancient World, we are not soulless and we would gladly accompany her out (and just come back in without her afterwards). However, because the ascending passage is so tight... it is systematized in a way that you can't go backwards (there's a huge crowd of people behind you, which I think only increased her fears). We had to go all the way to the top (King's Chamber) and wait for the designated time to then descend and exit the pyramid. There in the King's Chamber, she started balling and exhibiting what appeared to be a full-blown panic attack. She felt like she was suffocating. We all tried to keep her calm, but we didn't know what to do... we were literally trapped in the tomb with her.
Eventually, when we did exit the pyramid, she admitted she suffered from claustrophobia, but that she put it aside because she is an Egyptologist and it had been her lifelong dream to enter the pyramid. She was really embarrassed about it. And I kept telling her not to feel embarrassed about it (because to be fair, it was a very humid, dingy, crowded, tight atmosphere -- we were literally trapped in a tomb).
I never did ask her the cause of her claustrophobia (I don't even know if she would know), but:
- How common is claustrophobia?
- What are the causes? Naturally, classical-conditioning would be one (having had a bad experience of being trapped in a tight place before), but is something in the amygdala transmitting these fears??
- Do taller people tend to be more claustrophobic than the shorter people?