Breaking down the psychology of clown madness


Emma Schad

Alexia Samsal, sophomore psychology major, is shocked when she finds out there have been clown sightings on campus.

Emma Schad, Copy Editor

Due to the multiple clown sightings on campus within the past few weeks, it has become apparent who is “afraid” of clowns.

The fear of clowns, coulrophobia, is an uncommon phobia. Elizabeth Stroot, professor of psychology, said, “Thankfully, the vast majority of people who are ‘afraid’ of clowns do not have a true phobia. Nonetheless, they may feel uncomfortable around clowns.”

Stroot went on to explain how it might not be the clowns the students are “afraid” of but rather coinciding factors. She stated, “If [students] only recently become ‘afraid’ as a result of the bizarre clown hysteria that’s sweeping our country, then I suspect they’re more afraid for their personal safety and dislike the unpredictability of the situation, rather than a fear of clowns per se.”

There is an effective treatment to deal with phobias, such as coulrophobia, called systematic desensitization. Stroot explained the process by saying, “In the presence of a trained practitioner, the person is exposed to increasingly intense instances of the phobic object — all while deeply relaxed. The key is exposure, and this treatment works precisely because it is impossible to be simultaneously both anxious/afraid and relaxed.”

However, if a student is dealing with a “full-blown clown phobia to the extent that the symptoms are interfering with his or her ability to function and are causing significant distress, the student should consider seeking help from our counseling center,” said Stroot.

Stroot advises students to “keep a level head.” She further explained, “If you find yourself worrying and obsessing about clowns, stop — and substitute a physical activity (five jumping jacks or clean your room, for example) or a mental activity (sudoku or read a poem).”

If you’re someone who is deeply “afraid” of clowns and wants this craziness to end, be aware that it won’t until people stop giving attention to the situation. The more attention given, the more the clowns will “thrive.”

For more information about the phobia of clowns, contact Stroot at [email protected], or if you are experiencing distress due to the clowns, contact Cary Knier, director of counseling services, at [email protected].