An expert explains 'creepy clown' phobia

- Whether it's a playful circus clown or a clown at a haunted house, if you're one of the many people who suffer from a fear of clowns, known as coulorphobia, they simply creep you out.

Dr. Scott Bea is a psychologist at Cleveland Clinic. He says that a fear of clowns is most likely due to the elusive nature of their appearance.

"I think what it is about clowns is, you can't really identify what their intentions are or what they might do. They have this capacity to startle you, and so there's an uncertainty, particularly uncertainty about threat," he says.

Dr. Bea says that because clowns wear makeup and conceal their identity, they can create uncertainty. And whenever we're faced with uncertainty or ambiguity about a threat, we naturally become a little wary. He says it's similar to when children are terrified by mascots or characters with masks.

Dr. Bea says that clowns used to be whimsical characters that folks associated with the circus, but over time, depictions of clowns in movies and on television have associated them with more sinister things.

We don't see many clowns at children's parties anymore most children don't actually like clowns. In fact, one study found that children who were staying in hospitals particularly disliked decorations that included clowns. Dr. Bea says if someone you know is frightened of clowns, it's best to not force them into clown exposure. 

"I wouldn't force people into something they don't want. We'll see if clowns make resurgence somehow, but for now, they're kind of on the creepy side and are probably going to stay there for a little while," he says.

Dr. Bea says that many young children have been exposed to the narrative of the creepy clown, which of course, contributes to the likelihood of developing a fear of them.  He says that if we're scared by something as a child that sticks with us into adulthood.

So, if the kids go to see the movie "It", that will likely trigger some clown fears for life.

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