The Fear Behind the Face Paint

By Sanjeev Mann (@Ask_Sanjeevs)

Why are people scared of clowns?

‘Killer clowns’ seem to be the latest craze to have hit Ayrshire, having started across the pond in the US. The trend involves people dressing up in frightening clown outfits and jumping out on members of the public. Police have had reports from all over Ayrshire, including reports that two teenagers in clown suits holding knives had chased on-comers in the Dean Park.

But what is the history behind killer clowns and why are people scared of them? Steven King’s famous novel ‘It’ brought it to the mainstream in the early 90’s, and a drama is even coming out in cinema’s next year.

In fact, the term clown didn’t develop until the late 1500’s after Shakespeare used the term to describe foolish or silly characters in his plays. However characters such as jesters have been around for thousands of years. Historically they were characters that could make insulting remarks in a humorous way. Circus clowns are a relatively new idea that has developed. And many think it is the facial expression that could cause fear.

Coulrophobia is not a word that springs to mind, but this is the term to describe people who have ‘a specific fear of clowns’ and cases of the phobia have increased since the novel. Many scientists believe that the reason some have a fear of clowns is because of the mystery of who’s behind the mask. It’s the ‘not knowing’ that gives people the fear.

Other reasons come from their similarities to humans, otherwise known as uncanny-valley effect. This is when something is almost recognizable but different. This is the reason why the likes of zombies create a scared reaction. The same idea goes for clowns.

Clowns have been around for thousands of years but the phobia has only escalated since the early 90’s. The current craze only highlights how a fear of clowns has developed.

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