BECKLEY, WV (WVNS) – Coulrophobia: what is it?

The fear of clowns can be just as paralyzing as any other fear, even though it may seem sillier at first glance. West Virginia is more afraid of clowns than anything else. Why is that?

A study conducted by cataloged the greatest fear of every state for the year of 2022. West Virginia’s greatest fear this year is clowns. Below is a map that shows the greatest fear of every state in the United States.

Why are people afraid of clowns?

Pop Culture

Clowns are also a growing fear because of their continued inclusion in pop culture as something sinister to fear. The prevalence of clowns in pop culture, like Pennywise in beloved thriller author Stephen King’s It (1986), has encouraged people to remain afraid of something that is already a little creepy.

Clowns aren’t just scary because of their inclusion in horror though. The fear of clowns had to come from somewhere else. Believe it or not, there is a legitimate psychological reason to be afraid of clowns.

The ‘Uncanny’

The fear of clowns, like any other phobia, can cause acute anxiety responses in people exposed to imagery of a clown in person, on a screen, or in another type of media. Like other phobias, coulrophobia is also a phobia with a longer history than you might think at first.

The fear of clowns stems from the ‘uncanny’ effect. Sigmund Freud first popularized the description of something being ‘uncanny’ describing “uncanny” as something that is both familiar and unfamiliar at the same time.

Modern examples of the uncanny include things like dolls, puppets, and robots. In order for something to be uncanny, it needs to be humanlike or familiar, but not fully. This effect has been later described as the ‘uncanny valley’ where something that resembles a human can only be normal up to a certain point, where it sharply turns towards causing fear.

So where do clowns come in? Clown costumes involve people wearing makeup that distorts and exaggerates their features, making them look less normal. Their expression might be sad despite a smile painted on their face, and this unfamiliarity causes anxiety in people.

Real Danger

The final main reason that clowns have become a modern fear is their link to real danger.

According to Britannica, the real-life serial killer John Wayne Gacy solidified the idea of the ‘killer clown’ in most people. He was a serial killer who killed and tortured at least 33 young men and boys-all with the persona of Pogo the Clown. Gacy dressed as a clown in order to become close to his community, and became known to some as the ‘Clown Killer’

All of these reasons contribute to the fear of clowns, which is West Virginia’s greatest of 2022. Be sure to keep that in mind when dressing up for Halloween this year.