Do clowns make you shiver? Researchers figure out where ‘coulrophobia’ comes from. “Not just the makeup”

Do you get nightmares of people with a white made-up face, wig, red nose and a balloon dog as a pet? Then you might have a phobia of clowns. Why do we sometimes find those grinning pranksters so terrifying? Science now has a concrete answer to that.

Coulrophobia, that’s what it’s called when you have a fear of clowns. The phobia has been around for almost as long as clowns have existed, which would be about 4,500 years ago. “Coulrophobia” is also more common than a fear of heights, according to researchers from England.

The very first ‘clown’ originated as the satyr from ancient Greece and emerged later in the Middle Ages as the well-known jester, whose main purpose was to entertain and make people laugh. Why, then, is it that some are so afraid of them? Previous studies show that we are not born with that fear.

Be careful when watching certain films and series

The phobia develops as you get older. But it mainly starts at a young age, especially if you watched a lot of thrillers in which a scary clown appears as a child, scientists at the University of South Wales in England have now discovered. Think, for example, of films such as ‘It’ based on the book by Stephen King or ‘Joker’ with Joaquin Phoenix.

But there are also real ‘killer clowns’. For example, the American serial killer John Wayne Gacy raped and murdered about 33 boys in the 1970s in the role of a hospital clown. That will only make you shiver.

© Carol Yepes/Getty Images

Still, you shouldn’t be shocked by every person wearing a wig and a red nose. So how come some do? The answer comes from the recent questionnaire prepared by the researchers at the University of South Wales. They asked 18 questions to 987 people between the ages of 18 and 77, from Africa, Europe, Australia and the Americas.

The results of the study, published in the International Journal of Mental Health, found that Asians fear clowns the most and Europeans the least. Yet as many as 54 percent of all respondents would suffer from coulrophobia.

You don’t have to have a scary experience with a clown to be afraid of it

The biggest fear factor? Not the make-up of the clowns, but their exaggerated facial expressions would make them the scariest, it turns out. Then comes the make-up, because it hides their true emotions. Plus, a clown’s makeup (lots of red, ed.) reminds the respondents of death and blood. But there are three more reasons.


Does anyone in your family suffer from this phobia? Then there is a good chance that you too will take over this fear.

Welsh researchers

The unpredictable behavior of clowns often makes us uncomfortable. And the increasingly negative representation of clowns in the media would frighten us even more. Does anyone in your family suffer from coulrophobia? Then there is a good chance that you too will take over this fear. If you’ve ever had a frightening experience with a clown, you’re more likely to develop coulrophobia.

“This suggests that your own experience alone is not a decisive cause of a fear of clowns,” the researchers wrote in science magazine The Conversation. According to them, this fear would decrease with age. So there is hope for those who shiver in the presence of such a grinning creep.

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