Do you suffer from gelatophobia?


It’s getting on toward Christmas, which means A Charlie Brown Christmas will soon be on TV…and we’ll once again get to watch Lucy give her nickel’s worth of psychiatric advice to Charlie Brown, listing all the phobias he could be subject to.

One she won’t list is gelotophobia, which, though it sounds like it means a fear of Italian ice cream (and, yes, everyone who writes about it makes that same joke), actually means a fear of being laughed at. More: those with gelotophobia find it difficult or impossible to distinguish between playful teasing and ridicule. To them, all laughter is aggressive. Not surprisingly, this can cause enormous problems in their social relationships.

Lots of other people don’t have a phobia, but still aren’t wild about the idea of others laughing at them.

Recently, a team of researchers from the University of Zurich published a study in the journal Humor whose goal was to find a reliable way of evaluating the fear of being laughed at within different cultures.

The Swiss researchers commissioned 93 scientists to administer a questionnaire (translated into 42 different languages) to a total of 22,610 people to find out whether they suffered from gelotophobia.

The 46-item questionnaire (and later, a 15-item version) allowed scientists to score people’s fear of laughter on a scale from slight to extreme, and to identify those whose fear was tinged with shame (shame is at the forefront of the emotions felt by those with gelotophobia).

There was also a pictorial assessment tool, which used cartoons showing people laughing in various circumstances. For example, one picture showed someone observing two other people laughing. Participants were asked what the observer might be thinking. Those with no fear of being laughed at might say, “Those two sure know how to have fun!” while those with fear would think the observer was thinking, “Why are they laughing at me?”

There are several dimensions to the fear of being laughed at. One is the “insecurity reaction” dimension (that’s where you try to hide your lack of self-confidence from other people, or believe you’re being involuntarily funny), one is the “avoidance reaction” dimension (where you try to avoid situations where you’ve been laughed at in the past), and one is the tendency to suspect that if others are laughing, they are laughing at you.

The Swiss study found that the fear of being laughed at is common to all cultures (which isn’t surprising, since laughter is a universal human emotional response), but that there are differences.

In Turkmenistan and Cambodia, for example, insecurity reactions are most common, while in Iraq, Egypt and Jordan, people are more likely to avoid situations in which they have been laughed at.

People in Finland were the least likely to believe that others laughing in their presence were laughing at them (only 8.5 percent felt that way), while in Thailand, a whopping 80 percent of the people were likely to believe that was true.

In all, gelotophobia was found to some degree in anywhere from two to 30 percent of the population. In the U.S., the incidence was around 11 percent.

Why didn’t Lucy mention gelotophobia to Charlie Brown, who would seem to be the poster child for it? Because it was identified by a German psychologist in the 1990s. Since then, it has been a hot topic of research: the Swiss study is only the latest.

For example, in another study participants who had scored either extremely high or low in a test assessing gelotophobia listened to a recording of 20 different laughs, from embarrassed giggles to belly laughs to jeering laughs, and rated those laughs as pleasant or unpleasant, domineering or less-domineering.

Somewhat to the researchers’ surprise, those with a fear of being laughed at didn’t react more strongly to negative laughter. Instead, they perceived positive laughter as unpleasant or spiteful. Those without fear of laughter said they felt more cheerful after listening to the recorded laughter; those with gelotophobia reported no change in mood.

By learning more about gelotophobia, psychologists and psychiatrists hope to figure out better ways to treat those who suffer from it.

And if they do, it will be worth every nickel.

Permanent link to this article:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Easy AdSense Pro by Unreal