Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Send in the Creepy Clowns

Credit: moccabunny/Adobe

Credit: moccabunny/Adobe

By Tim Hannan

Fear of clowns may result from an evolutionary adaptive “creepiness detector”.

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Creepy clown sightings have increased exponentially in recent months, with media reports of painted or masked pranksters simultaneously entertaining and terrorising Australians throughout the country. The craze originated in the USA, where it appears to have been triggered by a remake of the Stephen King movie It, which features a murderous, sewer-dwelling clown named Pennywise.

Aside from the generally benign intentions of these perpetrators, media reports and commentary have served to invite the question: why do so many people report an intense dislike or even fear of clowns? A recent American study into the experience of finding another person to be “creepy” may illuminate the condition called coulrophobia – the irrational fear of clowns.

The study reported in the journal New Ideas in Psychology sought to investigate the concept of creepiness. Researchers recruited more than 1300 adult participants to complete an online survey that explored whether an individual’s gender, physical characteristics or overt behaviours contributed to them being judged as a creepy person. Participants also rated the perceived creepiness of a number of occupations, and nominated hobbies that they thought to be more commonly associated with creepy individuals.

Generally, the survey results confirmed that men are more likely to be perceived to be creepy than women....

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.