The secret of the fear of clowns finally revealed in the study

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Why are we afraid of clowns? However, this is far from being the original goal of these good-natured characters, always ready for pranks. Scientists have tried to understand what causes such disgust in many people, and the results are impressive.

Oddly enough, the fear of clowns is a very common phenomenon. It is found in many cultures around the world, whether in adults or children. Sometimes it even comes down to a phobia called “coulrophobia”. True, the terrible clown that appears in the world-famous film “It” based on the book by Stephen King is not very reassuring. There are many works of fiction in popular culture in which clown characters are played to scare. If these terrifying versions certainly played into the development of fears, even phobias of clowns, then they are not enough to explain everything. It seems that coulrophobia does indeed have a very specific psychological basis.

With this hypothesis in mind, a group of researchers from South Yale University began to study this issue. Scientists have tried to uncover the underlying causes that may make us afraid of clowns. To do this, they asked 987 people aged 18 to 77 to fill out a questionnaire on this topic. Their study was published in the International Journal of Mental Health. The results they summarized in the press release are amazing.


An invitation to dream, ready to wear.

Indeed, more than half of the people (53.5%) who answered the questionnaire say they are afraid of clowns, at least to one degree or another. 5% of respondents said they had “extreme fear” of these characters. This rate of people with phobias is slightly higher than that of people with other phobias such as certain animals (3.8%), blood/injections/injuries (3.0%), heights (2.8%), calm waters, or certain meteorological phenomena (2.3%). ) or closed spaces (2.2%). Clownphobia tends to be slightly more common in women than men and also decreases with age.

8 reasons why we are afraid of clowns

The colors of clown makeup sometimes evoke associations with death: blood, wounds… © Alexa/Pixabay

These facts were established, it remained to try to find out the cause of such fear. The new questionnaire was sent out to 53.3% of respondents who said they felt it. Thus, scientists have come up with several plausible versions that could well explain this phobia. They summarized them in a statement in eight points:

  • “Zombie Pit”: “A strange or unsettling feeling about clown makeup that makes them look less than human. A similar reaction is sometimes seen with dolls or mannequins.”
  • Menacing face: “The exaggerated facial features of clowns convey a direct sense of menace.”
  • Blurred emotional cues: “Clown makeup hides emotional cues and creates insecurity.”
  • Symbolism associated with death: “The color of clown makeup reminds us of death, infection or blood damage and causes disgust or avoidance.”
  • Unexpected: “The unpredictable behavior of clowns makes us uncomfortable.”
  • Transmitted Fear: “Fear of clowns is passed down to us from family members.”
  • Constructed Fear: “Negative representations of clowns in popular culture.”
  • Experience: “A scary experience with a clown.”
  • “Interestingly, we found that the last explanation, which has a frightening personal experience with a clown, received the least approval from the respondents. This indicates that personal experience is not enough to explain why people are afraid of clowns, ”the scientists added in a statement.

    In fact, emotional cues were the strongest factor. Because of the make-up applied to the clown’s face, it is difficult for us to distinguish whether the person underneath is angry, sad, happy… The smiling face “stuck” to the real face makes it difficult to determine his emotions, and this creates a feeling of insecurity. Indeed, we are constantly adapting our behavior in accordance with these signals that we perceive in others. Without these clues, it is difficult to predict the clown’s attitude or even future actions. Hence, perhaps, the fact that we are so afraid of all these versions of terrible clowns who attack innocent people with a big smile painted on their faces …

    International Journal of Mental Health.

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