Fear of clowns is a widely recognized phenomenon around the world, and studies indicate that this phobia exists among adults and children in many different cultures. However, it is not well understood due to the lack of research focused on it.
While many possible explanations for the phobia have been offered in the academic literature, no studies have specifically investigated its origins.
So researchers from the University of South Wales in Britain set out to discover the reasons why some people are afraid of clowns, and to understand the psychology behind it. In addition to an exploration of how common the fear of clowns is in adults and a look at the severity of the fear in those who report it.
To do this, the researchers devised a psychological questionnaire to assess the prevalence and severity of colophobia. The Fear of Clowns Questionnaire was completed by an international sample of 987 subjects between the ages of 18 and 77.
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More than half of the respondents (53.5%) said they were somewhat afraid of clowns, while 5% said they were “very afraid” of them.
Interestingly, this percentage indicating an extreme fear of clowns is slightly higher than that reported for many other phobias, such as animals (3.8%), blood and injections (3.0%), heights (2.8%), water or Weather events (2.3%), indoors (2.2%), and aviation (1.3%).
The survey also found that women are more afraid of clowns than men. The reason for this difference is not clear, but it echoes other research findings on other phobias such as fear of snakes and spiders.
The researchers also discovered that “colophobia” decreases with age, which again matches research on other fears.
The origins of this fear
The next step was to explore the origins of people’s fear of clowns. A follow-up questionnaire was given to 53.5% of those who reported at least some degree of fear of the clown.
This new set of questions relates to eight plausible explanations for the origins of this fear, as follows:
A strange or unsettling feeling caused by clowns’ “make-up” making them appear inhuman.
The clown’s exaggerated facial features convey a direct sense of menace.
The clown’s “make-up” masks emotional cues and creates uncertainty.
The color of the clown’s “make-up” is reminiscent of death, infection or blood, evoking disgust and repulsion.
The clown’s unpredictable behavior makes us uncomfortable.
The fear of clowns was learned from family members.
Negative portrayal of clowns in popular culture.
Scary character experience with clown.
The researchers found that the final explanation, for a character’s scary experience with a clown, had the lowest score. Which suggests that life experience alone is not a sufficient explanation for why people fear it.
In contrast, the negative portrayal of clowns in popular culture was a much stronger contributor to colophobia. Which is understandable because some of the most notable clowns in the books and movies we read and watch have portrayed clowns as creepy people like Pennywise, the creepy clown from Stephen King’s 1986 novel.
However, some people are afraid of Ronald McDonald, the fast food chain’s mascot, whose existence is not meant to scare you. This suggests that there may be something more fundamental about the way clowns look that has people worried.
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In fact, the strongest factor the researchers identified was hidden emotional cues, suggesting that for many people, the fear of clowns stems from their inability to see their facial expressions because of their makeup, as we can’t see their “real” faces and therefore can’t understand their intentions. sentimentality.
So, for example, we don’t know if they had a furrowed forehead, which might indicate anger. Not being able to figure out what the clown is thinking or might do next puts some of us on edge when we’re around them.