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What Is Coulrophobia?

Medically Reviewed by Poonam Sachdev on May 31, 2022

Coulrophobia is a rare phobia that makes a person afraid of clowns, making it stressful to see, imagine, or interact with them. While many people know that it exists, most link it to small children — yet, it’s also common in adults. Here’s what you need to know.

What Is Coulrophobia?

Coulrophobia, more simply known as a fear of clowns, is a specific phobic disorder that causes distress surrounding the presence of clowns. While many people link this phobia to children, adults can also have it, as it often goes untreated for many years.

Coulrophobia usually flares up at parties, festivals, and Halloween get-togethers, as clowns are often found at these places. Yet, a person may also react negatively to the mere thought of encountering a clown.

Phobias are, by definition, an irrational fear of something, meaning that mere exposure to the situation isn’t a sure way to get over it. Instead, people with coulrophobia may opt to avoid these situations altogether — leading to isolation and missing out on important events.

How common is fear of clowns? Due to the lack of research, it’s hard to pinpoint an exact number regarding how prevalent coulrophobia is. Still, some experts suggest that about 1 in 100 children have a fear of clowns. Others estimate that the number is closer to 1 in 10 when it comes to adults.

Coulrophobia Causes

Due to the irrational nature of phobias, it’s hard to determine what causes coulrophobia. But there are a few theories regarding possible causes for this condition.

Phobias, in general, are often caused by negative experiences that relate to a particular experience — especially at a young age. If you had a traumatic experience involving a clown in your childhood, it might later develop into coulrophobia.

Similarly, children can pick up behavior from their parents, meaning that phobias can also be passed down between generations. Some research even points to genetics playing a role in this, so some people may be more prone to coulrophobia than others.

But there are a few causes that are specific to coulrophobia. For example, the uncanny effect refers to things that look familiar and unfamiliar at the same time. Clowns, due to their makeup and strange movement, can be a prime trigger for this effect. Seeing something so human that at the same time doesn’t really look like a human can make you uneasy and uncomfortable.

In the same vein, clowns can elude basic pattern recognition due to their makeup. The brain is able to pick up subtle signals that show emotion. Clowns' face paint sends mixed signals to your brain, making you uneasy and further amplifying the uncanny effect.

Lastly, pop culture can also take a toll on your fear of clowns. Movies like It can portray clowns as evil, which sometimes translates to coulrophobia. This is especially true for small children, who may become traumatized after seeing horror movies.

Coulrophobia Symptoms

People with coulrophobia usually only show signs when seeing, being near, or thinking about clowns. Events like Halloween parties, circuses, birthday parties, and horror movies are common triggers for this condition.

When in contact with a clown, a person with coulrophobia may experience:

Coulrophobia Treatment

Coulrophobia, like most other phobias, doesn’t have a one-size-fits-all cure. Instead, getting over this condition involves getting psychological help, which may take some time. But there are many types of therapy, and it might be challenging to find the one right for you.

Exposure therapy. Exposure therapy is one of the most effective treatments for specific phobias like the fear of clowns. It consists of gradually exposing the person to the feared situation, leading up to being comfortable enough to lose the phobia.

Cognitive behavioral therapy. Another effective treatment for coulrophobia is cognitive behavioral therapy, which seeks to identify and address thought patterns related to the phobia. Eventually, the person will be able to stop these thoughts, disabling the phobia.

Relaxation techniques. Relaxation strategies like breathing and visualization exercises can greatly help in treating phobias. By staying calm, you can think more rationally in a stressful situation — like when near a clown.

Support groups. While it may be hard to find one specifically for the fear of clowns, support groups can be a fantastic tool for treating phobias. There, different persons share coping strategies and provide emotional support for the whole group.

Still, there are a few things you can do on your own if you find yourself near a clown. Coping techniques like focusing on your breathing can allow you to calm down while rationalizing the situation.

Plus, learning about your phobia can also be useful for slowing down panic and anxiety attacks related to coulrophobia. But nothing will be as effective as checking with a mental health professional.

Can Coulrophobia Impact My Physical Health?

It’s unlikely that a condition like coulrophobia will impact your physical health in the long term. Instead, you might feel temporary symptoms whenever you’re in a situation that involves clowns, like a circus.

However, it can lead to some other problems altogether. For example, severe phobias can drive a person to substance abuse, especially alcohol abuse. Another extreme case is mood disorders, as deep phobias can trigger long-term depression and anxiety.

Still, it’s uncommon for coulrophobia to reach those levels of intensity. At most, you might have feelings of isolation due to not being able to attend events where clowns are present.

Managing Your Child’s Coulrophobia

Because children are more prone to developing phobias, it’s important to manage them in time. This can prevent the phobia from getting worse, allow your child to attend Halloween parties, and make them feel safer altogether.

If you notice that your child is fearful of clowns:

  • Explain to them that clowns are just people in costumes.
  • Reassure them that no one will try to hurt them.
  • Try to avoid horror movies and bad news that involve clowns.

But the most important thing is to be there for them and bring them comfort in moments of stress. If you listen to their cues and questions, you’ll avoid future phobias around clowns.

Show Sources

SOURCES:

Child Mind Institute: “Understanding the Creepy Clown Epidemic.”

Cleveland Clinic: “Coulrophobia (Fear of Clowns).”

European Journal of Pediatrics: “Fear of clowns in hospitalized children: prospective experience.”

Geisinger: “Enough clowning around: why are people afraid of clowns?”

GoodTherapy: “Treatment for Phobias.”

Johns Hopkins Medicine: “Phobias.”

Mayo Clinic: “Specific phobias.”

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