A Bizarre Fear
I don’t believe that there is a single person in the world without at least one fear. I have several, some being more intense than others. Although, it’s natural to have a fear isn’t it? It’s what makes us human.
With the recent release of IT, the 2017 film adaption of Stephen King’s novel of the same name, I’ve realised that another fear of mine. Perhaps it’s not justifiable to call it a fear because rather than being scared, I’m disturbed by it.
An apprehension of things that resemble humans — but aren’t quite human.
Why do some of fear distortions of what we perceive to be human?
Dolls. Clowns. Statues. Mannequins. Puppets.
Automatonophobia: ‘an irrational fear of any object that falsely imitates a living conscious being. Automatonophobia is an umbrella term and includes several more specific categories of phobias: including coulrophobia (fear of clowns), pupaphobia (fear of puppets), pediophobia (fear of dolls), etc.’
A phobia is defined as ‘an extreme fear or dislike of a particular thing or situation, especially one that cannot be reasonably explained’ (Cambridge Dictionary). I previously believed ‘phobia’ was only used to describe a fear but it also can be used for dislike. Note that phobias are considered irrational so what causes our fear of things that resemble humans?
Perhaps we fear these things because of its prevalence in pop culture or is there a much more primitive reason to automatonophobia?
It may be due to our innate perceptions and expectations of human behaviour. Humans were able to progress as a species partly due to our ability to create social structures; this requires efficient communication. This includes the ability to understand body language and facial expressions. Before we even speak to a person, we gain information and gauge their intentions by looking at them. It’s how we seek out potential threats; a method of survival. We are less likely to approach or trust people who we can’t read aren’t we? Or sadly, people who don’t conform to social norms. And we all know, many people can’t stand things that don’t resemble them exactly *cough* racism *cough*.
We can’t read objects such as dolls, mannequins, or even clowns (even though they’re not objects). It disturbs us because they resemble humans but we can’t grasp their intentions. But why do clowns scare us? They’re only humans wearing costumes and makeup. Maybe it’s because they often have a painted smile but we can’t truly tell what they’re thinking or their intentions. There’s no valid reason to be scared of inanimate objects yet I forced my mother to remove her doll collection from my room.
Ultimately, it’s probably a mix of innate fear and conditioning that causes automatonophobia. Of course, there are many other factors to consider. Although I’ve written this article, I’ll probably end up watching IT and sleeping with my lamp for days afterwards.