If you’re afraid of clowns, you aren’t alone. In fact, the fear of clowns is a real phobia, called coulrophobia. But why exactly are clowns seen as scary? And do some people like to be afraid? Keep reading to find out.
First, we’ll reiterate that being scared of clowns means you have plenty of company. According to a 2016 Vox poll, a whopping 42 percent of people said they were at least somewhat afraid of clowns. Among people ages 18 to 29, there were even more who feared clowns, 62% of respondents. These respondents said clowns were scarier than a lot of other common fears, like heights and needles; clowns were the number two fear among those who took the poll. However, in a 2016 Chapman University survey, 7.8 percent of people said they feared clowns. While this doesn’t necessarily rise to the level of a phobia, it does point to the fact that whether the clown is smiling or looking menacing, clowns scary plenty of people.
By why, exactly, are clowns so scary? According to Knox College psychology professor Frank T. McAndrew, they were created to be scary. McAndrew told Time that among the earliest clowns “were the court jesters who poked fun at kings and made people in high places uncomfortable. That’s why they exist. They’re designed to make people afraid. If you go all the way back to the beginning of clownhood, they’ve always been bad. They’re pranksters, they play tricks.”
Psychologist Rami Nader, director of the North Shore Stress and Anxiety Clinic in North Vancouver, B.C., told NBC that the mystery element of clowns, because they’re wearing masks, can help amp up fear of them. “You can’t really tell who they are. You can’t really see their face. You don’t really know what that all means behind the mask,” said Nader.
McAndrew elaborated on Nader’s theory in an article for The Conversation, writing, “People interacting with a clown during one of his routines never know if they are about to get a pie in the face or be the victim of some other humiliating prank. The highly unusual physical characteristics of the clown – the wig, the red nose, the makeup, the odd clothing – only magnify the uncertainty of what the clown might do next.”
While actual coulrophobia is rare (for it to be an actual phobia, you have to experience physical and mental symptoms like nausea, panic and anxiety), clearly, clowns hit a nerve, and pop culture has played up the image of the scary clown to great effect with movies like IT and Killer Klowns from Outer Space. When author Stephen King was writing the novel IT, on which the films are based, he knew he wanted to create a long book with all the monsters. He hit upon clown by tapping into our fear of them. He said in a talk in November 2013, “I thought to myself, ‘There [ought] to be one binding, horrible, nasty, gross, creature kind of thing that you don’t want to see, [and] it makes you scream just to see it.” So I thought to myself, ‘What scares children more than anything else in the world?’ And the answer was ‘clowns.’”
We know that lots of people are scared of clowns, but scary clowns are enduringly popular in horror movies and on Halloween. How come? Well, for those who don’t have an official phobia, they might like being afraid—up to a point. While it may indeed be scary if you hear about real clown incidents, in the realm of fiction, many people like the be scared because they know, deep down, that the clown isn’t real, that there’s actually a human being under the clown mask.
Christopher Dwyer, Ph.D., explored some of the reasons people like being scared while doing something like watching a horror movie, as opposed to actually having something terrifying happen to you, in Psychology Today. Dwyer wrote, “[W]hen we get scared, our bodies will go into fight, flight, or freeze mode; but, even though we are cognitively lazy…our brains are good at what they do — so, if we are in a setting where we get a ‘safe’ fright (e.g. watching a horror film, visiting a haunted house, or playing a scary video game) our brains will quickly evaluate the situation and tell us that we’re free from risk. Our bodies calm and many of us subsequently enjoy the experience. Thus, many of us are actually seeking ‘controlled’ fear and suspense, because we know we are safe.”
Other reason Dwyer gave for people liking to be scared including the rush of endorphins and dopamine, the satisfaction of getting through your fear, feeling close to others who are also afraid, and simple curiosity. All of those factors might explain why even though a large number of people say they’re afraid of clowns, scary and evil clowns are still a huge source of fascination. For some people, it’s likely possible to be scared of clowns and like being scared of clowns at the same time. Obviously, it depends on what kind of fear clowns instill in you.
Even if you do have a deep-seated fear of clowns, it’s possible to get over it with time and exposure. Psychologist Nader told NBC, that to get over a phobia such as a clown phobia, “What we need to do is gradually come into contact with that thing – whether it’s spiders or heights, whatever you’re afraid of – and learn to cope with the anxiety, learn to recognize that what you’re afraid of won’t actually harm you. You won’t lose control, you won’t panic, you won’t embarrass yourself with other people.” That being said, if you are extremely afraid of clowns, you shouldn’t feel like you have to go out of your way to come in contact with them.
However, if you fall into the liking to be scared (or liking to scare people) category, you just might want to spend your time leading up to Halloween perfecting your killer clown look. For many people, part of the joy of Halloween is being scared, just like the feeling you get when you watch horror movies. That tingling down your spine is both scary and a little exciting, the perfect combination. That’s why haunted houses are so popular; people seek out these scary attractions to chase that feeling in a safe environment.
Halloween is the perfect time for you to serve up some fabulous frights when you dress up in one of our scary clown costumes. Check out a sampling of them below, because sometimes it’s good to be scared!
Just one glimpse of Hugz the Clown is enough to send most people screaming! He embodies everything sinister about clowns, from his pointy fingers to his huge, scary smile and blood-spattered jumpsuit—and, of course, his Free Hugz sign!
Look ready to terrorize the circus crowd in this costume that features scary clowns on it along with a blood-spatter pattern plus sinister mask!
You’ll be the life (or is it the death?) of the party in this twisted clown look!
Wear this scary costume when you want to look like you’re more familiar with sharpening knives than juggling balls!
When the sun has set and the night has taken over is the perfect time to let your dark side shine through in this glow in the dark clown costume!
Look ready to do some damage in this scary clown costume! You’ll be sure to make it a haunting Halloween when you dress in this kids clown outfit with its frightful mask.
With its menacing grin that smacks of being up to no good, this sinister jester costume is the perfect way to serve up lots of fear this Halloween.