Clowns are supposed to be funny and entertaining, but for some people, they are anything but. About five percent of people in the US suffer from coulrophobia, or fear of clowns, according to a recent survey. But what makes clowns so scary for some and not for others?
A new study by US psychologists has shed some light on this question by surveying more than 500 people who are scared of clowns. The researchers found that the fear is not rooted in scary clown-related childhood experiences, as one might expect. Instead, it is driven by a handful of typical clown characteristics that make them unpredictable and unsettling.
One of the most common reasons cited by the participants was not being able to tell what the clown really feels – due to the painted-on smile or frown. This creates a sense of uncertainty and ambiguity about their true intentions and emotions The inability to read facial expressions is a key factor that triggers fear in many people, according to Philip Tyson, a psychology professor at the University of South Wales and one of the authors of the study.
“There’s something about not being able to read facial expressions,” Mr Tyson told The Washington Post. “And the fact that there might be something hidden and dangerous, there might be harmful intent behind the makeup.”
The influence of media and culture
Another reason why some people are afraid of clowns is the way they are portrayed in some movies and books – such as the character Pennywise in the 2017 version of Stephen King’s ‘It’. These fictional representations often depict clowns as evil, violent, or sinister, which can create a negative association in the minds of viewers and readers.
The study also found that some people are influenced by the cultural and historical context of clowns. For example, some participants mentioned the real-life serial killer John Wayne Gacy, who dressed up as a clown and murdered 33 young men in the 1970s. Others referred to the 2016 clown sightings phenomenon, when people dressed as clowns and terrorized communities across the US and other countries.
These events can shape how people perceive clowns and make them more wary of themThe researchers suggest that clowns are often used as symbols of social and political unrest, reflecting the fears and anxieties of society.
The role of appearance and behavior
The study also revealed that some aspects of a clown’s appearance and behavior can be disturbing for some people. For instance, some participants said they were scared by the tufts of brightly colored hair, the big red nose, the oversized shoes, or the exaggerated makeup that clowns wear. These features can make clowns look unnatural and grotesque, which can trigger a sense of disgust or repulsion.
Additionally, some participants said they were frightened by the way clowns act – such as making loud noises, throwing pies, squirting water, or popping balloons. These actions can be seen as unpredictable, intrusive, or aggressive, which can make people feel threatened or uncomfortable.
The researchers explain that these factors can create a sense of uncanniness – a feeling that something is familiar but not quite rightClowns are human-like but not exactly human, which can cause confusion and discomfort in some people.
How to overcome coulrophobia
The study was published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology, and although it is not based on a representative sample of the population, it offers insight into why people fear clowns. The researchers hope that their findings can help people who suffer from coulrophobia to understand their fear better and seek treatment if needed.
Some of the possible treatments for coulrophobia include:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): This is a type of psychotherapy that helps people identify and challenge their negative thoughts and beliefs about clowns and replace them with more realistic and positive ones.
- Exposure therapy: This is a technique that exposes people to their fear gradually and in a controlled environment, such as watching videos or pictures of clowns, or meeting a friendly clown in person. This can help people reduce their anxiety and learn to cope with their fear.
- Hypnotherapy: This is a method that uses hypnosis to induce a state of relaxation and suggestibility in people. It can help people access their subconscious mind and change their emotional response to clowns.
- Medication: In some cases, people may benefit from taking anti-anxiety or antidepressant drugs to ease their symptoms and improve their mood. However, this should be done under the guidance of a doctor and only as a last resort.
If you are afraid of clowns, you are not alone. There are many people who share your fear, and there are also many ways to overcome it. You can seek professional help or try some self-help techniques to cope with your phobia. Remember that clowns are not inherently scary, and they are just people who want to make you laugh.