Study Tries To Uncover Why So Many People Are Scared Of Clowns

scary clown fear study Coulrophobia


A study published in the International Journal of Mental Health has attempted to uncover the reasons why so many people suffer from coulrophobia, or the fear of clowns, and the psychology behind it.

It doesn’t really matter where you are from or what your age is when it comes to being scared of clowns. They terrify everyone.

However, the why of it all is still a bit of a mystery.

“While numerous possible explanations of the phobia had been put forward in academic literature, no studies had specifically investigated its origins,” the researchers from the University of South Wales wrote. “So we set out to discover the reasons people are frightened by clowns, and to understand the psychology behind this. We also wanted to explore how common the fear of clowns is in adults and to look at the severity of the fear in those who reported it.”

The first thing the researchers did was have an international sample of 987 people aged between 18 and 77 take a psychometric questionnaire.

More than half the respondents (53.5%) said they were scared of clowns at least to some degree, with 5% saying they were “extremely afraid” of them. Interestingly, this percentage reporting an extreme fear of clowns is slightly higher than those reported for many other phobias, such as animals (3.8%), blood/injection/injuries (3.0%), heights (2.8%), still water or weather events (2.3%), closed 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 not clear, but it echoes research findings on other phobias such as the fear of snakes and spiders. We also discovered coulrophobia decreases with age, which again matches up with research into other fears.

The next step was to have the people who showed some fear of clowns fill out a follow-up questionnaire in an effort to determine why.

These questions related to eight possible explanations…

1. An eerie or unsettling feeling due to their makeup making them look not-quite-human. A similar response is sometimes seen with dolls or mannequins.
2. Their exaggerated facial features convey a direct sense of threat.
3. The makeup hides emotional signals and creates uncertainty.
4. The color of clown makeup reminds us of death, infection or blood injury, and evokes disgust or avoidance.
5. Their unpredictable behavior makes us uncomfortable.
6. Fear of clowns has been learned from family members.
7. Negative portrayals of clowns in popular culture.
8. A frightening experience with a clown.

Somewhat surprisingly, having a past frightening experience with a clown was the least likely reason for respondents’ fears.

The strongest factor in causing respondents’ fear of clowns are the hidden emotional signals. This suggests, according to the researchers, “that for many people, a fear of clowns stems from not being able to see their facial expressions due to their make-up.”

“Not being able to detect what a clown is thinking or what they might do next makes some of us on edge when we are around them,” they wrote.

“This research has provided some new insights into why people are afraid of clowns – yet more questions remain. For instance, if makeup which masks emotions causes fear, do people who have their faces painted as animals also create the same kind of effect? Or is there something more particular about the makeup of clowns that drives this fear? This is now the focus of our continued research.”

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Before settling down at BroBible, Douglas Charles, a graduate of the University of Iowa (Go Hawks), owned and operated a wide assortment of websites. He is also one of the few White Sox fans out there and thinks Michael Jordan is, hands down, the GOAT.