Tricky but No Treat: Clowns are Straight Up Scary

Beware: “You can never really know what a clown is thinking.

When students were asked what they were afraid of, Professor John Tyson’s students routinely cited spiders, snakes and claustrophobic spaces, but a consistent minority would say they were “terrified of clowns,” said Tyson, an associate professor of psychology at the University of South Wales. He wanted to know why.

From The Washington Post, “In what may be a first-of-its-kind study focusing on the origins of clown fear, the University of South Wales team noticed some distinct patterns in the group. The study, called “Fear of clowns: An investigation into the aetiology of coulrophobia” was published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology. While the research is not based on a representative sample of the population, the findings offer insights into the reasons some people fear clowns, Tyson said.

One of the most surprising findings is that for many people, having a “scary personal experience with a clown wasn’t a main contributor to the fear,” Tyson said. Instead, people said they were creeped out by clowns because:

First and foremost, the existence of Pennywise, Stephen’ King’s clown creation for his horror novel “IT”..

In addition, Tyson gives a few additional reasons for people’s fear of clowns:

  • You can never really know what a clown is thinking. It can be difficult to know what’s really going on in the mind of a clown with a painted on smile or frown
  • Clowns are unpredictable. Clowns make some people laugh, but they often behave in unpredictable and startling ways that normal people never would (such as squirting water from a flower or honking a horn). People who are scared of spiders say something similar, worrying the spider will jump on them unexpectedly, Tyson said.
  • A clown’s exaggerated features are disturbing. The big red nose, the egg head, the puffs of neon-colored hair. People seem to be scared of beings that look nearly human but not exactly, in the same way some people find baby dolls, aliens orrobots disturbing.
  • Movie clowns are terrifying. Many of those surveyed also said their fear is due, in part, to movies starring scary clowns, such as Joaquin Phoenix in “Joker” or Pennywise, the demonic clown in Stephen King’s “It.”

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