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Does Clown Phobia Really Exist?

written by: Dr. Kristie Leong • edited by: Paul Arnold • updated: 10/23/2010

Not everyone thinks clowns are entertaining - particularly people who suffer from an irrational fear of them. What are the causes and symptoms of clown phobia?

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    What is Clown Phobia?

    Most people think clowns are uplifting and entertaining with their colorful, painted on faces, but there’s a certain portion of the population that finds these characters to be sinister and frightening - due to an irrational fear. What causes clown phobia and what are the symptoms of this condition?

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    What Causes Clown Phobia?

    The medical term for clown phobia is coulrophobia, which literally means “phobia of one who goes on stilts”. Clown phobia encompasses not only the fear of circus clowns, but anxiety about mimes too. Clown phobia frequently has its roots in childhood when a young child is frightened by the unfamiliar face of an overly made-up clown or one with an angry or unhappy expression.

    Contrary to popular belief, kids are often afraid of clowns. In one study, researchers found all of 250 children who were hospitalized on a children’s ward in Great Britain to be frightened of them. This raises an obvious question. Why do hospitals allow clowns in hospitals to cheer up sick children? Coulrophobia in kids is more pervasive than most people think.

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    Clown Phobia is Common

    Why is a fear of clowns so common? It may be the overly-exaggerated expressions on clown faces that children find frightening since they can’t identify with them. The media sometimes portrays clowns in a negative light by creating “bad” clowns with grotesquely evil faces – and even killer clowns.

    In slapstick comedy, smiling clowns commit aggressive acts that frighten children, and kids quickly form a negative impression of these strange humans with deceptively happy faces. One reason people fear clowns is it’s difficult to gauge their true emotions or intent behind their painted on faces.

    Some children develop a negative impression of clowns after a bad experience with one, and that fear can persist into adulthood as coulrophobia. There may also be a genetic tendency towards developing phobias, and kids who are inherently anxious, shy, or fearful may be at higher risk of suffering from anxiety around clowns.

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    Symptoms of Clown Phobia

    As might be expected, people with coulrophobia experience fear and anxiety when around clowns or mimes. Symptoms of clown phobia may be mild, or a person can have a full-blown panic attack when they’re confronted with a clown. Some people have marked feelings of dread, sweating, rapid heartbeat, lightheadedness, or dizziness when they’re near a clown - or even see one on television. Reactions can range from mild discomfort to full-blown panic.

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    Clown Phobia: The Bottom Line?

    Clown phobia is common among children, and the fear of clowns can last into adulthood. To people with coulrophobia, even the friendliest of clowns can cause fear and anxiety. As with other phobias, psychological therapy, including hypnosis and exposure therapy, can help relieve the symptoms of clown phobia.

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    References

    Digital Journal. "Study Shows Children Fear Clowns"

    Medindia Health Network. "Know All About Coulrophobia To Cure It."