The news comes as the sequel to Stephen King’s classic horror story IT premieres in the UK, with horrendous clown monster Pennywise returning to wreak havoc on the lives of the now grown up members of the Losers Club. But it seems that they aren’t the only ones who are able to fully escape the claws of the beast, as Dr Cox has disclosed that he has received a surge of patients begging for his help to remove the image of Pennywise from their minds in the wake of the first film’s release in 2017.
This serious and almost irrational fear of clowns has also been given a proper sciencey name, too: coulrophobia.
According to studies, an estimated 12% of British people suffer from coulrophobia, which originates in a person’s experience of clowns either in the media or real life. Events such as the 2016 clown sightings and the remaking of IT have led to what has been described by Dr Cox as ‘a kind of low level hysteria’.
Although common in children, coulrophobia can develop later on in life.
‘Clowns are scary for two reasons,’ says Dr Cox. ‘Firstly they are unnatural, we know they are human but they don’t look like normal humans. The face paint hides their facial expressions so we can’t read their emotions like normal people. Also their movements are exaggerated and unnatural and people build rapport based on similarity, clowns are by definition very different so this creates a barrier against connection.
‘Most phobias are created when there is a sensitising event. A child seeing a stranger dressed up in a strange costume with unknown motives is the likely trigger for the phobia in most people but culturally there is a general feeling that clowns are creepy which creates the association of them being something for fear.’
It makes sense that our young minds being unable to recognise the clowns as other humans is what drives the phobia. And it doesn’t even necessarily have to be clowns – the Uruk-hai from Lord of the Rings kept me awake for years, even though as I grew older I knew they were just burly blokes in prosthetics.
Although the obvious thing for coulrophobics to do would be to avoid attending events like the circus or a kid’s birthday party, Dr Cox claims that publicity for IT and its sequel has led to an inability for coulrophobics to escape the image of Pennywise as they try to go about their daily business.
‘With IT being such a popular film those that are afraid of clowns will see more images of clowns than normal which can cause unnecessary anxiety,’ he says.
‘Just as the film Jaws was responsible for many people developing galeophobia the original 1990 mini-series of IT, featuring Tim Curry as Pennywise, was responsible for many people developing coulrophobia. It’s my belief that the popularity of the latest version of IT will see Pennywise create a new generation with a fear of clowns.’
Though not an entirely hopeful sentiment, Dr Cox does divulge some helpful advice for coulrophobics that are worried their fears will eventually overcome them, claiming: ‘With clown phobias specifically the key is to acknowledge that there is a real person behind the mask and they often they are very shy.
‘Once the phobic connects with the shy and vulnerable person behind the clown costume then they feel sorry or even pity for the person rather than fear.’
There we are then. Next time you see Pennywise, just remember he’s just Alexander Skarsgard’s goofy younger brother …
If you’re a coulrophobic, Dr Cox has released a free download for his hypnotherapy programme you can access here:
Max is an awkward Medievalist struggling with ever evolving technology. When not writing for The Hook, he can be found attending self-help classes for his decade-long addiction to KFC. His greatest achievements include getting blocked by Owen Jones on Twitter and completing the Metro quick crossword in just under twenty-seven hours.Follow