Creepy clowns gaining traction
The hashtag “creepy clown” has been gaining traction lately, as at least 10 states have encountered reports of individuals dressed as clowns looking to harm or threaten others. While many of these are hoaxes, you may wonder–why clowns? What it is that makes them rate so high on the creepiness scale?
“Psychologically, the likely reason some fear clowns is that people, in general, are uncomfortable meeting anyone who is disguised,” says Sharon Klingman, a licensed clinical counselor with Advocate Medical Group in Bloomington, Ill. “Our brains see and use hundreds of minute cues when we meet a person for the first time to develop a profile of who we believe that person is. Even without talking, we attach basic personality characteristics to someone, and that assumption leads us either closer to the person or pushes us away. When we are blocked from accessing these cues by a painted clown face, we immediately feel some discomfort and anxiety. We don’t like anxiety and therefore, may choose to associate them with the ‘bad’ feeling we had.”
In a study published earlier this year, over 1,300 participants were asked to rate 21 occupations on their “creepiness.” Clown scored the highest,with taxidermist a close second. Researchers concluded this outcome and others from the study support the idea that the perception of creepiness is a response to the ambiguity of a threat. Unusual nonverbal behavior and odd emotional responses make us uncomfortable and wonder if an individual may be a threat.
“Fear of clowns, or coulrophobia, has been capitalized on over the years by horror film makers and writers,” says Klingman. “Even a certain serial killer assumed a clown persona, which only added to the perception by some that clowns are evil and to be feared.”
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About the Author
Lynn Hutley, health enews contributor, is coordinator of public affairs and marketing at Advocate BroMenn Medical Center and Advocate Eureka Hospital in central Illinois. Having grown up in a family-owned drug store, it is no surprise that Lynn has spent almost 18 years working in the health care industry. She has a degree in human resources management from Illinois State University and is always ready to tackle Trivia Night.