Why Clowns Are Creepy & How Hollywood Made It Worse By Classical Conditioning

Nowadays, there is a big negative stigma of clowns. Clowns are associated with psychopaths (even the own term psychopath is not accurate), killer, scary, and frightening.

But why people scared of clowns? There are 2 main answers. The first one is the clown itself that is creepy, the second is the classical conditioning process that done by Hollywood movies.

If you ask me if the clown it self is scary? The answer is yes, clowns are scary. But why? That because clowns belong in something that called the uncanny valley. The uncanny valley is the feeling of eerieness and strange because we exposed to almost but not accurate humans like replicas or stimulus. This is the graph of the uncanny valley :

uncanny valley

As you can see, when a stimulus almost human like, but not human enough, our happiness plunge down like a valley. The stage starts from the stimulus that nowhere near human, like robots, machine, etc. Then the happiness started when we get a little sense of human, like cartoons, baby animals, etc that usually give us the feeling of cuteness, joy, etc. But as the human-like feature increase, our happiness drop down. This is when you can clearly see the human feature like face, body, and eye but have some minor and inhuman features. This is when clowns, ghost, and creepy dolls belong. After some minor features gone, that’s when humans belong and the happiness increase.

Clowns are human of course but they have a weird nose, make-ups, unnecessary bright or weird clothes, etc. The weird clown features are the factors why we feel strange when we exposed to clown.

So clowns are scary, but Hollywood made it more and extremely frightening. My theory is, that Hollywood movies actually conditioned clowns to violent and sadistic figure by conditioning us to countless of scary clowns movies. Believe it or not, because of many scary clowns movies, clowns now associated with a frightening figure. This is when Pavlovian’s classical conditioning involved.

Classical conditioning is the process of conditioning unconditioned stimulus with a conditioned stimulus, so after conditioning, our natural/unconditioned responses will be shifted to conditioned response. If this confusing to you, just look the illustration I made below :

clowns classical conditioning

So Before conditioning is our natural response. We might think that clowns are creepy but not as a frightening figure because clowns probably just hang out and perform in the circus.

During conditioning is the moment we watch and know countless movies about scary clowns. Seriously I can’t even count how many scary movie clowns are there. Based on someone list on IMDB, there are about 202 scary clowns movies are there. There probably some more movies that they missed out. Even that list does not include another countless popular scary clowns videos on the internet.

After conditioning, because of countless scary movies and videos about scary clowns are there, our mind automatically associates clowns as the figure you see in the scary movies. Even the real clown is not as frightening as in the movies.

So that’s why clowns are scary and how Hollywood made it worse. What do you think about this post? What are your opinions? Do you also think that clowns are frightening? Tell us in the comment box below!


Pollick, F. E. (2010). In Search of the Uncanny Valley. Lecture Notes of the Institute for Computer Sciences, Social Informatics and Telecommunications Engineering User Centric Media, 69-78. doi:10.1007/978-3-642-12630-7_8

Classical conditioning. (2017, August 05). Retrieved August 08, 2017, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Classical_conditioning

Uncanny valley. (2017, August 04). Retrieved August 08, 2017, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uncanny_valley

N. (n.d.). Clown Horror Movies. Retrieved August 08, 2017, from http://www.imdb.com/list/ls074643412/

Protected by Copyscape

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s