Gelotophobia is a term derived from two Greek terms, gelos (γέλως) meaning "laughter" and phobos (φόβος) meaning "fear", to describe people who have a fear of being laughed at. While most people do not like being laughed at, there is a sub-group of people that exceedingly fear being laughed at. Without obvious reasons, they relate laughter they hear, such as in a restaurant, to themselves and are uneasy. Since 2008, this phenomenon has attracted attention from scholars in psychology, sociology, psychiatry, and has been studied intensively.
In his clinical observations, Dr. Michael Titze found that some of his patients seemed to be primarily worried about being laughed at. They tended to scan their environment for signs of laughter and ridicule. Furthermore, they reported that they had the impression of being ridiculous themselves. Additionally, Titze observed a specific movement pattern among them when they thought they were being laughed at—awkward, wooden movements that resembled those of wooden puppets. He described this state as “Pinocchio-syndrome”. Two other behaviours related to laughter are gelotophilia - the joy of being laughed at and katagelasticism - the joy of laughing at others.
Causes and consequences of gelotophobiaEdit
From the clinical observations a model of the causes and consequences of gelotophobia was drawn up  so that the condition could be studied scientifically. The model claims that gelotophobia can be caused by any one of three things at different stages of development:
The putative causes of gelotophobia:
- In infancy: development of primary shame failure to develop an interpersonal bridge i.e. failing infant–caregiver interactions
- In childhood & youth: repeated traumatic experiences of not being taken seriously i.e. being laughed at/ridiculed, for example, being bullied.
- In adulthood: intense traumatic experience of being laughed at or ridiculed e.g. bullying.
The consequences of gelotophobia:
- Social withdrawal to avoid being ridiculed
- Appear ‘cold as ice’/ humourless
- Psychosomatic disturbances e.g. blushing, tension headache, trembling, dizziness, sleep disturbances
- ‘Pinocchio Syndrome’ congeal, clumsy, ‘agelotic’ face, ‘wooden puppet
- Lack of liveliness, spontaneity, joy
- Humour/laughter are not relaxing and joyful social experiences
Gelotophobic beliefs and outlookEdit
Here is a quick checklist of gelotophobic behaviours that show if people are gelotophobic:
- Avoid social situations to avoid being laughed at or ridiculed
- Worry that people think they do not engage with them in a warm, friendly way or think they are humourless
- Find it hard to know what to say to people in a natural way
- Has low self-esteem due to feeling incompetent in social situations
- When people are talking and laughing, they feel their body getting tense, which then makes their movements appear wooden and stiff rather than being relaxed and natural
- Think they are not a lively person, are not spontaneous, and do not experience many joyful moments in their daily life
- Worry that they look ridiculous to others
Anyone who answers "yes" to at least half of these statements may be gelotophobic. As laughter is used as an integral part of communication and how people form and maintain relationships, it is natural to see how those who tend to be gelotophobic will find that their social interactions are seriously affected.
Usually laughter is contagious and leads to positive emotions such as exhilaration and joy, yet no one likes to be laughed at or made fun of. Most people dislike being laughed at to some degree and gelotophobia can range from having no fear at all, to borderline, to pronounced or extreme gelotophobia. A simple test is available on the website gelotophobia.org where anyone can determine which, if any, category they are. People can also volunteer to participate in studies to help the scientific community understand the issues in more depth.