Are you afraid of clowns? You are not alone. Coulrophobia, or the fear or aversion to clowns, is a widely recognized phenomenon. Studies indicate that this fear is present both among adults and children, in many different cultures. However, it is not well understood due to a lack of focused research.
Although they were presented in literature academic numerous possible explanations about the phobia, no study had specifically investigated its origins. Like this, we set out to find out the reasons people are scared of clowns, and to understand the psychology behind it. We also wanted to explore how common a fear of clowns is in adults and look at the severity of the fear in those who reported it.
To this end, we developed a psychometric questionnaire to assess the prevalence and severity of coulrophobia. O quiz The Fear of Clowns was completed by an international sample of 987 people aged between 18 and 77 years old.
More than half of respondents (53.5%) said they were afraid of clowns, at least to some extent, with 5% saying they were “very afraid” of them. Interestingly, this percentage of extreme fear of clowns is slightly higher than reported for many other phobiassuch as animals (3.8%), blood/injection/injuries (3.0%), heights (2.8%), standing water or weather events (2.3%), enclosed spaces (2.2% ), and flying (1.3%).
We also found that women are more afraid of clowns than men. The reason for this difference is unclear, but it reflects research findings about other phobias, such as the fear of snakes and spiders. We also found that coulrophobia decreases with age, which again coincides with the investigation of other fears.
The origins of this fear
Our next step was to explore the origins of people’s fear of clowns. was given a follow-up questionnaire to the 53.5% who had reported at least some degree of fear of clowns. This new set of questions related to eight plausible explanations for the origins of this fear, as follows:
- A strange or disturbing feeling due to the clowns’ makeup that makes them look non-human. A similar response is sometimes seen with dolls or mannequins.
- Clowns’ exaggerated facial features convey a direct sense of menace.
- Clown makeup hides emotional signals and creates uncertainty.
- The color of clown make-up reminds us of death, infection or bloody wounds, and evokes disgust or avoidance.
- The unpredictable behavior of clowns makes us uncomfortable.
- The fear of clowns was learned from family members.
- Negative portrayals of clowns in popular culture.
- A frightening experience with a clown.
Interestingly, we found that the final explanation, having had a frightening personal experience with a clown, had the lowest level of agreement. This indicates that life experience alone is not a sufficient explanation for why people are afraid of them.
In contrast, the negative portrayal of clowns in popular culture was a much stronger contributor to coulrophobia. This is understandable as some of the most prominent clowns in books and movies were designed to be scary. — such as Pennywise, the scary clown from Stephen King’s novel, it. (This character was recently featured in two movies in 2017 It is 2019with Bill Skarsgård in the lead role).
However, some people are afraid of Ronald McDonald, the chain’s mascot. fast food, and he wasn’t meant to scare. This suggests that there may be something more fundamental about the clown aspect that upsets people.
In fact, the strongest factor we identified was hidden emotional cues, suggesting that for many people, their fear of clowns stems from not being able to see their facial expressions because of their make-up. We cannot see their “true” faces and therefore cannot understand their emotional intent. So, for example, we don’t know if they have a furrowed face or furrowed brow, which would indicate anger. Not being able to detect what a clown is thinking or what they might do next makes some of us nervous when we’re around them.
This research has provided some new insights into why people are afraid of clowns, however, more questions remain. For example, if makeup that masks emotions causes fear, would people who have their faces painted like animals also create the same kind of effect? Or is there something more particular about the clowns’ makeup that provokes this fear? This is now the focus of our ongoing investigation.
Exclusive PÚBLICO/The Conversation
Researchers work at the University of South Wales