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Why do clowns cause fear? How to get rid of coulrophobia

Why do clowns cause fear?  How to get rid of coulrophobia
Why do clowns cause fear?  How to get rid of coulrophobia

Since ancient times, a trip to the circus has seemed like a real holiday for children: acrobats, tightrope walkers, wild animal tamers, fire swallowers, magicians and… clowns. Artists in a suit with unnatural white make-up, red noses, disheveled hair and exaggerated shapes. It would seem, what could scare this ridiculous image? However, lately the fear of clowns has been gaining momentum. And not only among children but also among adults.

Even McDonald’s abandoned its famous Ronald McDonald mascot to avoid scaring young customers. Of course, popular culture has intensified the fear of clowns, but is that the only reason?

Especially for The Fashion Vibes, psychologist Khadizhat Shabueva explained what coulrophobia is and also shared practical tips on how to get rid of the fear of clowns.

Khadizhat Shabueva, psychologist


What is coulrophobia?

A still from the movie “The Dark Knight”

Coulrophobia, or fear of clowns, is a surprisingly common phenomenon, but clowns’ mission seems to be just the opposite – to make people laugh, not to make them cry. Interestingly, for a long time there was no consensus in the scientific community as to whether this should be considered a phobia, and coulrophobia was officially recognized only in the mid-20th century. However, this term is not included in the current list of the WHO International Classification of Diseases.

According to a study conducted by British scientists with 987 people aged between 18 and 77 from different countries, more than half of them (53.5%) admitted that they were afraid of clowns.

So why do clowns cause such horror in so many people? Most often it’s because of their grotesque and distorted facial features. White makeup, a bright red nose and an unnaturally wide smile can look sinister, especially to children who tend to take things literally.

In 1970, the Japanese scientist-engineer and roboticist Masahiro Mori in one of his articles hypothesized that a robot, puppet, doll or any other humanoid object causes fear and hostility in people (animation or an insufficiently reliable copy of a person, on the contrary, sympathy wakes up). He called this phenomenon the “uncanny valley” effect. Masahiro Mori’s ideas can be clearly seen in the cult anime Ghost in the Shell: Loner Syndrome, where the main antagonist is a cyborg named Puppeteer. Moreover, pediophobia (fear of dolls, mannequins, puppets) has much in common with coulrophobia: it occurs not only in children but also in adults.

A still from the anime “Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence”
A still from the anime “Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence”
A still from the anime “Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence”

Clowns’ faces also resemble humans, but are distorted enough to cause discomfort. In some people who prefer controlled situations, clowns’ unpredictable behavior causes feelings of anxiety and insecurity, as their makeup and masks hide their true feelings and intentions.

A still from the series “American Horror Story: Freak Show”

Fear of clowns has become particularly prevalent in popular culture. One of the most famous examples is Pennywise the clown in Stephen King’s It. By the way, the prototype of the anti-hero was a real-life serial killer-clown (although he did not commit his murders with makeup). According to the plot, this creepy clown, who feeds on children’s fears, has become the embodiment of clownphobia for many generations. Also worth mentioning is Twisty from American Horror Story: Freak Show, who adds fuel to the fire by creating another sinister image.

Interestingly, coulrophobia is not always related to direct experience or trauma. Many people who have never encountered real clowns may experience this fear due to the influence of the media and popular culture. Viral videos and “horror stories” about clowns on the Internet further strengthen this phobia. It is enough to recall the latest viral meme about the angry clown Ronald McDonald from the fast food chain McDonald’s. It is noteworthy that the company decided to abandon its mascot in 2016, as pranksters began to dress like clowns and scare passers-by.


How to get rid of fear of clowns?

A still from the movie “Suicide Squad”

If you are faced with coulrophobia, do not despair. It can be treated and managed like other phobias. Here are some practical tips to help you cope with this fear. The first step in overcoming a phobia is to acknowledge its existence. Understanding that your fear is logical (in the context of your emotions) and that you are not alone can already alleviate the situation. Discussing your fears with friends or family can often help relieve stress.

A frame from the series “Killing Eve”

Gradual desensitization. This technique involves gradually targeting the source of the fear. For example, start by looking at photos of less scary clowns or cartoons featuring them. Gradually increase the intensity: Watch videos of real clowns and then attend events featuring them. Do this slowly and only when you feel ready.

Cognitive behavioral therapy. CBT has proven effective in treating a variety of phobias, including coulrophobia. The therapist will help you deal with negative thoughts and replace them with more positive and logical thoughts. This can significantly reduce the level of fear.

Meditation and relaxation. Stress and anxiety make phobias worse. Meditation, deep breathing, and yoga techniques can help you relax and reduce overall stress. Try starting with short sessions and gradually increasing the duration.

I’m working on clowns. Understanding the history and culture of clowns can change your perception. Learn how and why clowns appeared and their role in circus and theater. Knowledge can destroy the mystical aura of fear.

Try to look at clowns from a different perspective. Humor can be a powerful tool in the fight against phobia. Find funny videos or comedy scenes featuring clowns that don’t scare you, but make you laugh.

Professional help. If your phobia affects your daily life, do not hesitate to seek professional help. A psychotherapist or psychologist will be able to offer an individual treatment plan that will be most effective for you.


In conclusion, it is worth saying that coulrophobia is not just a whim or whim. This is a serious fear that many people face. However, like other phobias, it can be overcome. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and work on yourself; after all, life without fear is much brighter and more joyful.

Source: People Talk

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