Is the ‘clown scaring craze’ harmless pranks or could this trend be provoking phobias?

The ‘clown scaring craze’ that is sweeping the globe has reached the North East of England. Throughout America and the UK there have been reports of menacing masked characters and people dressed as clowns leaping out of bushes, chasing people and even schoolchildren have been targeted. Is this scaring trend harmless fun or something more menacing?


For those that have a fear of clowns this is no joke. Coulrophobia (the fear of clowns) is a well-established psychological condition and like any other irrational phobia it is no laughing matter. Phobias often develop during the a child’s early years of development. A child’s experience of the visual world is very different to that of adults. Unlike adults, children retain information from their senses separately and, therefore, they perceive the visual world differently. This can greatly affect how a child perceives an unfamiliar face. If we try and see a clowns face through the eyes of a young child; a child is unable to dissociate between the clowns’ excessive makeup and the person behind the mask; therefore, the child can perceived the clown as real. From this point of view what children fear may not be so irrational after all.

Phobias that develop during childhood and adolescence are often the result of a frightening event or stressful situation. For example, if an adult has a fear of spiders (arachnophobia) a child may also develop the same fear. Or a young person may develop claustrophobia later on in life if he or she was trapped in an enclosed space. Other factors, such as having parents who suffer from anxiety, may also affect the way a young person deals with stress later on in life.

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When experiencing a phobia the physiological symptoms can be severe and can cause a state of panic. Difficulties in breathing, tightness in the chest, rapid heartbeat, perspiring, nausea and panic attacks are all common symptoms and is often a result of a felt sense reaction to a past learnt early childhood experience. In severe cases the adoption of reassurance and safety seeking behaviour can greatly affect functioning which in turn can lead to anxiety and depression. In many cases avoiding the object of fear is enough to control the problem; however, this may not always be possible with certain phobias; for example, a fear of flying or a social phobia. In this instance, professional help maybe needed. Behavioural Therapy and Mindfulness are effective approaches that enable awareness of the interaction between the mind and body; therefore, enabling clarity and the emotional resilience to respond to fear in ways that are non-reactive.

Because the nature of the creepy clown scaring trend is to provoke shock and fear and because this interaction is so far outside of our social norm, this trend could potentially cause deep psychological trauma, particularly for young children and people that suffer from coulrophobia. Halloween will soon be upon us, maybe there is a time and place for scary costumes and pranks. I would be really interested in your thoughts, please comment below.

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