Why are clowns so scary?

Masks and makeup can disrupt our ability to read facial expressions, an important part of human social interaction.

27th February 2018
Why are clowns so scary?

Asked by: Matt Adams, Lutterworth

For many people, there is something disturbing about the clown’s make-up that renders their facial expression as an unnatural, fixed grin or smile. This means we can’t read their true emotions, putting us on edge. It’s probably no coincidence that many of the most infamous horror characters also conceal their faces in some way – think of the Scream mask, or Leatherface from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. When the clown also behaves aggressively or menacingly, the contrast with their playful costume and grinning features just adds to the creepiness. But context is everything: children can find friendly, silly circus clowns hilarious.

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