Whether it’s a playful circus clown, or a clown at a haunted house, for those of us who suffer from coulrophobia or a ‘fear’ of clowns, they simply creep us out.
According to Scott Bea, PsyD, of Cleveland Clinic, our fear of clowns is most likely due to the elusive nature of their appearance.
“I think what it is about clowns is you can’t really identify what their intentions are, or what they might do,” said Dr. Bea. “They have this capacity to startle you, and so there’s an uncertainty, particularly uncertainty about threat.”
Dr. Bea said because clowns wear makeup and conceal their identity, they can create uncertainty. And whenever we’re faced with uncertainty or ambiguity about a threat, we naturally become a little wary.
He said it’s similar to when children are terrified by mascots or characters with masks.
Clowns used to be whimsical characters that folks associated with the circus, but over time, depictions of clowns in movies and on television have associated them with more sinister things.
Dr. Bea points out that we don’t see many clowns at children’s parties anymore, and in fact, most children don’t actually like clowns.
One study found that children who were staying in hospitals particularly disliked decorations that included clowns.
For those who are frightened of clowns, Dr. Bea said it’s best to not force them into situations that involve them.
“If your kids are frightened of clowns, don’t force them into clown exposure,” said Dr. Bea. “Just respect them; protect them a little bit. I wouldn’t force people into something they don’t want.”
Dr. Bea said many young children have been exposed to the narrative of the creepy clown, which of course, contributes to the likelihood of developing a fear of them.
He said if we’re scared by something as a child, those early impressions often stay with us into adulthood.
“We’ll see if clowns make a resurgence somehow, but for now, they’re kind of on the creepy side and are probably going to stay there for a little while,” said Dr. Bea.