- Researchers from University of South Wales surveyed 528 people scared of clowns
- They found most were not afraid due to a bad experience with a clown
- READ MORE: Hypnotherapist reveals bizarre Xmas phobias that are real
Scientists have revealed why five percent of people in the US are afraid of clowns – and it is not rooted in scary clown-related childhood experiences, as you might expect.
Instead, the fears are rooted in a handful of typical clown characteristics, according to a new survey by US psychologists.
Researchers at the University of South Wales surveyed more than 500 people who are scared of clowns – known as coulrophobia – and found a number of surprising reasons for their phobia.
Most commonly cited were not being able to tell what the clown really feels – due to the painted-on smile – and the terrifying portrayal in some movies – such as the character Pennywise in the 2017 version of Stephen King’s ‘It.’
Elements of a clown’s appearance, including the tufts of brightly colored hair and the big red nose, can also be disturbing.
Those who are afraid of clowns say some of the fear lies with fictional portrayals – such as Bill Skarsgård’s disturbing version of the character Pennywise in Stephen King’s ‘It’.
Philip Tyson, a psychology professor at the University of South Wales, has taught phobias classes for 15 years. Every year, a consistent minority of students would admit they are terrified of clowns.
Around five percent of the population are afraid, or very afraid, of clowns, according to a recent survey.
Professor Tyson and colleagues were so intrigued by the fear that they developed a survey to determine where their phobia originated from.
One of the ‘most surprising findings,’ Mr Tyson told The Washington Post, was that having a ‘scary personal experience with a clown wasn’t a main contributor to the fear.’
The research was published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology, and although it is not based on a representative sample of the population, the study offers insight into why people fear clowns.
One intriguing reason participants mentioned was that you never really know what a clown is thinking.
Their painted-on smile or frown makes it difficult to know what is really going on in their mind.
‘There’s something about not being able to read facial expressions,’ Mr Tyson explained. ‘And the fact that there might be something hidden and dangerous, there might be harmful intent behind the makeup.’
Phobias often arise from characters or objects that look close to human but not exactly, such as aliens and robots.
Clowns are also known for behaving in unpredictable ways, for instance honking a horn or squirting water from a flower.
Mr Tyson said this presents an element of unpredictability, which is a common cause of fear – and often cited in other phobias, such as being scared of spiders.