Why Do Clowns Creep Us Out?

Clowns, who are supposed to be figures of innocent fun and manic joy, have scared many people of all ages for several reasons. In fact, over the past several months, creepy clowns have been reported to terrorize people in at least 10 different states in the US.

But what makes these figures in brightly-patterned costumes and a mask of make-up scary to the point that experts have come up with the term coulrophobia, the full-blown phobia of clowns?


According to an article by Frank McAndrew for ILF Science, the supposed provider of jokes and pranks are giving us the feeling of creepiness due to ambiguity, specifically about not being sure how to react to a situation or a person.

In a study McAndrew carried, 1,341 volunteers aged 18 to 77, were asked to accomplish an online survey. They were asked to rate the likelihood that a hypothetical “creepy person” would show 44 different behaviors. The participants were also asked to rate the creepiness of 21 different occupations as well as hobbies that they find creepy. Lastly, they were asked how agreeable they are with 15 statements about the nature of creepy people.

“The results indicated that people we perceive as creepy are much more likely to be males than females (as are most clowns), that unpredictability is an important component of creepiness and that unusual patterns of eye contact and other nonverbal behaviors set off our creepiness detectors big time,” McAndrew concluded,

Moreover, the study also found that weird physical characteristics such as a peculiar smile, bulging eyes or inordinately long finger did not cause people to see someone as creepy. However, when these strange physical characteristics were combined with any other creepy tendencies like persistently steering conversations to peculiar sexual topics, it can amplify a person’s creepiness.

Clowns, of course, emerged as the top occupation perceived as the creepiest.

McAndrew explained that the findings of the study were consistent with his theory that getting “creeped out” is a reaction to the ambiguity of threat. He emphasized that the reaction is adaptive, something humans have evolved to feel to maintain vigilance during potentially dangerous situations.

What is Phobia?

Phobia is a type of anxiety disorder that involves persistent fear of an object or situation that has been present for more than 6 months.

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