Why do we find clowns so creepy?

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - FRONT PAGE - AMY EL­LIS NUTT

WASH­ING­TON: Long be­fore they donned big feet and bal­loon pants for chil­dren’s birth­day par­ties, clowns were strictly adult en­ter­tain­ment. As dimwit­ted drunks, hooli­gans and mis­chievous mis­cre­ants, these court jesters and fools poked fun at Chi­nese em­per­ors, Ro­man se­na­tors and me­dieval feu­dal lords.

Yep, clowns were cul­tural pranksters long be­fore they mor­phed into merry fools. They also bore less-thanster­ling names such as stupidus, scurra and mori­ones (from which “stupid,” “scur­rilous” and “mo­ron” are de­rived).

So why should we be sur­prised that clowns are back to be­ing creepy? For the past few months, sin­is­ter clown sight­ings have swept through a dozen US states, and po­lice, teachers, chil­dren and adults have had to con­trol ir­ra­tional fears.

No shock, then, that a study re­leased ear­lier this year in­volv­ing an in­ter­na­tional sam­ple of more than 1 300 peo­ple put clown at the top of a list of creepi­est oc­cu­pa­tions, ahead of taxi­der­mist and fu­neral di­rec­tor. (Oddly, writer came in 11th, just ahead of ac­tor, con­struc­tion worker and com­puter soft­ware en­gi­neer.)

Psy­chol­o­gist Francis T McAn­drew, wrote in a journal ar­ti­cle ti­tled On the Na­ture of Creepi­ness, it was “things that make a per­son un­pre­dictable also pre­dict creepi­ness”.

And clowns, frankly, fit the bill.

They wear dis­guises, might ap­pear to be friendly or happy from their face paint and yet be­have dif­fer­ently and you don’t know what they might do next.

“It may be that it is only when we are con­fronted with un­cer­tainty about threat that we get ‘creeped out,’” McAn­drew wrote, adding this could be use­ful if it helped peo­ple to stay on guard when they were un­cer­tain about some­one or some­thing.

He said be­ing “creepy” was dif­fer­ent to be­ing “ter­ri­fy­ing” or “dis­gust­ing”, de­scrip­tions where the con­clu­sions drawn about the per­son in ques­tion are “much more clear cut”.

Then again, the un­canny clown sight­ings might be more imag­i­na­tion than gen­uine fright.

Ac­cord­ing to Loren Cole­man, a cryp­to­zo­ol­o­gist (some­one who stud­ies myth­i­cal beasts, such as the Loch Ness Mon­ster), the sight­ings might be due to a kind of mass hys­te­ria that is most of­ten sparked by chil­dren.

The phe­nom­e­non car­ries a “sci­en­tific” name, which it­self could al­lay fears for the eas­ily fright­ened: The Phan­tom Clown The­ory. – Wash­ing­ton Post

Pen­ny­wise, the clown from the minis­eries IT ter­ri­fied many view­ers.

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