Fear of Clowns: An Investigation into the aetiology of coulrophobia

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Fear of clowns or coulrophobia is a little understood phenomenon despite studies indicating that it has a high prevalence in the general population. There have been no previous investigations into the aetiology of this fear, although several plausible hypotheses from the wider literature can be generated; the fear stems from media portrayals of scary clowns, from the unusual physical appearance or the unpredictable behaviour displayed, or it derives from an unpleasant personal experience.
The current study reviews the literature in this area and also pilots a new
questionnaire (Origin of Fear of Clowns Questionnaire; OFCQ) to explore the causes of the fear of clowns in a sample of 528 participants who reported such a fear.
Our findings suggest that uncertainty of harmful intent, media influences and
unpredictability of behaviour play an important role in the origins of coulrophobia. There are also multiple features of clown appearance which produce a negative experiential state and a sense of a direct threat.
We conclude that the origins of clown fear are multi-factorial and primarily
relate to aspects of their facial appearance, their behaviour, and how they have been portrayed in the media. Surprisingly, fear derived from personal experience was not one of our main findings. Further research is focused on looking at associationsbetween the level of fear and each aetiological category.
Original languageEnglish
Article number1109466
Number of pages9
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
Publication statusPublished - 2 Feb 2023


  • clown fear
  • coulrophobia
  • phobia acquisition
  • phobia
  • aetiology


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