The fear of ghosts in many human cultures is based on beliefs that some ghosts may be malignant towards people and dangerous (within the range of all possible attitudes, including mischievous, benignant, indifferent, etc.).
The very belief in the existence of ghosts is considered by many Western religions to be a superstition. Upholders of philosophical rationalism generally consider belief in ghosts to be a superstition. Still, the fear of ghosts is widespread even in post-industrial societies. Philosopher Thomas V. Morris wrote:
"...I am perfectly aware that the fear of ghosts is contrary to science, reason and religion. If I were sentenced to spend a night alone in a graveyard, <...> I should already know that twigs would snap and the wind moan and that there would be half-seen movements in the darkness. And yet, after I had been frog-marched into the graveyard, I should feel a thrill of fear every time one these things happened..."
In many traditional accounts, ghosts are often thought to be deceased people looking for vengeance, or imprisoned on earth for bad things they did during life. The appearance of a ghost has often been regarded as an omen or portent of death. Seeing one's own ghostly double ordoppelgänger is a related omen of death.
Anthropologist John Whiting indicates that studies of various cultures show a correlation between the fear of ghosts and low indulgence during infancy and the severity of punishment of children for aggression observed in these cultures, leading to the hypothesis that these cultures have mourning customs designed to protect the living from ancestral ghosts.
Wari', an Amazon rainforest tribe, believe that the spirits of dead people may appear as a scaring specters called jima. The jima is said to grab a person with very strong, cold and poisonous hands and try to pull the person's spirit away.
"That a great fear of ghosts prevails among the Papuans is intelligible. Even by day they are reluctant to pass a grave, but nothing would induce them to do so by night. For the dead are then roaming about in their search for gambier and tobacco, and they may also sail out to sea in a canoe. Some of the departed, above all the so-called Mambrie or heroes, inspire them with especial fear. In such cases for some days after the burial you may hear about sunset a simultaneous and horrible din in all the houses of all the villages, a yelling, screaming, beating and throwing of sticks; happily the uproar does not last long: its intention is to compel the ghost to take himself off: they have given him all that befits him, namely, a grave, a funeral banquet, and funeral ornaments; and now they beseech him not to thrust himself on their observation any more, not to breathe any sickness upon the survivors, and not to kill them or "fetch" them, as the Papuans put it."
Onryō (怨霊) is a Japanese ghost (yurei) who is able to return to the physical world in order to seek vengeance. While male onryō can be found, mainly in kabuki theatre, the majority are women. Powerless in the physical world, they often suffer at the capricious whims of their male lovers. In death they become strong. Goryō are vengeance ghosts from the aristocratic classes, especially those who have beenmartyred.
Luigi, from the Super Mario bros. series, has a seemingly overwhelming fear of ghosts. This is shown in Luigi's Mansion.