A recent survey found that 5% of the U.S. population said they are afraid — or very afraid — of clowns. Philip John Tyson, an associate professor of psychology at the University of South Wales, and a team of researchers set out to find out why this fear, known as coulrophobia, exists.
According to The Washington Post, Tyson has been teaching about phobias for 15 years. Surprisingly, his fear of clowns study, probably the first of its kind, found having a “scary personal experience with a clown wasn’t the main contributor to the fear.” Instead, people said they were terrified of clowns because:
• You can never tell what a clown is thinking. When the clown has a painted smile or frown, it’s difficult to read what’s going on in its mind. Participants in the study suggested there might be something harmful or dangerous behind the makeup.
• Clowns are unpredictable. Clowns make people laugh but they may pull some unexpected ploys such as squirting water through a flower head or honking a horn incessantly that can scare people.
• A clown’s exaggerated features can be disturbing. The bulbous red nose and weird hair can frighten people because clowns are beings that look human but appear unworldly, like aliens or robots.
In retaliation to the survey, Jon Davison, a clown performer, teacher, director, and researcher at the London Metropolitan University, said the reports of coulrophobia don’t mesh with his experience. He said that in 38 years of clowning, he has come across fear of clowns only twice.
He says that clowns are not intent on traumatizing their audience but to show how “helpless and vulnerable” they are, says MSN. Clowns want audiences to laugh at their performances but they’re also trying to get people to sympathize with their character, who is often at the mercy of society, says Davison. “Somehow, you sense the humanity,” he said. “It’s like a little kid.”
Other experts say that it could be the red and white clown paint that frightens people. White suggests the pallor of death, while red taps into our wariness of blood or a contagious infection. Frank McAndrew, a psychology professor at Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois, co-wrote a 2016 study called “On the Nature of Creepiness,” which surveyed more than 1,300 people to find out what behaviors and characteristics creeped them out. Clowning scored the highest in the occupations deemed “very creepy,” rating higher in creepiness than a taxidermist, sex shop worker, or funeral director.
“There’s this very easy connection between clowns and horror,” he said. “I don’t think they became creepy to us because people started putting them in haunted houses. I think they got in haunted houses because people found them creepy to begin with.”
© 2023 NewsmaxHealth. All rights reserved.