Afraid of Being Laughed At? You Might Be Suffering From Gelotophobia

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Afraid of Being Laughed At? You Might Be Suffering From Gelotophobia

People's laughter can trigger Gelotophobia individuals to react violently / Photo by Antonio Guillem via 123RF


Many people may dislike being the butt of jokes, but for individuals with Gelotophobia, or gelotophobes as they are called, take it to a whole new level. Every time they overhear others laughing, they think they are the reason for the laughter. Listening to people laughing can prompt them to become defensive and cause them to react violently. They cannot tell the difference between laughter that is used to mock someone and one that is used for light-hearted teasing. Although many may perceive laughter as an expression of happiness, gelotophobes view it as a way to be insulted. Psychology Today states that this extreme fear of being laughed at can be harmful to people’s romantic relationships.

McGill defines Gelotophobia as the “potentially debilitating fear of being laughed at.” It comes from the two Greek words “Gelos” meaning “laughter and “phobia” meaning “fear”. It is known to affect 20% to 30% of people and most people who suffer from it are from Asia. This was discovered by Willibald Ruch, a psychologist from the University of Zurich by conducting a survey in 73 countries. His survey had 23,000 participants. The survey contained statements like “While dancing I feel uneasy because I am convinced that those watching me assess me as being ridiculous” and “I avoid displaying myself in public because I fear that people could become aware of my insecurity and could make fun of me” that participants either agreed with or disagreed with.


According to, Gelotophobia may have developed from experiencing a traumatic event in the past. People may have always laughed at them during their childhood years or others may have believed that whatever they did or said was serious. They may have also been previously subjected to constant bullying. Depression, lack of self-esteem and social anxiety can either be the causes or effects of Gelotophobia.

Dr. Tracy Platt, a researcher of Gelotophobia, also from the University of Zurich, believes it may also be caused by cultural factors. It was shown in her study that 13% of people from Britain may experience being afraid of laughter on some level and 1% of UK residents are affected by Gelotophobia. She also found that that there were plenty of Asians who struggle with the phobia, especially in Asian countries where shame can be a method of controlling. Denmark was listed as the country that had the least number of gelotophobes, with only below 2% having a pathological fear of laughter. Dr. Platt notes that in Denmark’s culture, “It is seen as very wrong to laugh at another’s misfortune.”

She also suspects that environmental factors, a person’s sense of humor, their school life and their social life may also have caused them to acquire the phobia. Dr. Platt also thinks it may be connected to Asperger’s Syndrome.

Signs and Symptoms

Based on BBC’s article, Gelotophobia: Living a Life in Fear of Laughter, written by Pipa Stephens, a health reporter, some of the signs and symptoms that someone is suffering from Gelotophobia are: having a negative perception of laughter, feeling extremely afraid and angry when they hear someone laughing, having a hard time when placed in social situations, feeling dizzy, blushing, having sleep disturbances, having stress headaches, and shaking. Gelotophobes appear to lack a sense of humor. They tend not to be cheerful or spontaneous.

They tend to feel embarrassed and ashamed upon hearing the sound of laughter. Being used as a topic of jokes may push them to get ready to fight. Sometimes, they may end up beating up people and others may try to stay away from them as a result. Usually, they try to withdraw from social situations to reduce the chances of being ridiculed. Due to this phobia, they may find it difficult to bond with others or maintain relationships.

The Outlook and Effects of Gelotophobia

Laughter plays an important role in helping individuals manage their negative feelings as well as make people feel relaxed and happy, Professor Scott from the University College London argues. Prof. Scott specializes in investigating the neuroscience of laughter, speech, and voices. She says that it would feel horrible not to be able to join in on others’ laughter or react to it in a positive way.

Prof. Scott asserts, “I do not think you can play down the importance of laughter. It is absolutely endemic.” She speculates that instead of being the phobia of laughter, Gelotophobia may actually be an index of someone’s social problems or part of their personality traits.

Dr. Platt states that since this phobia has only recently been discovered and studied, they have not yet reached a point where they can test any treatment options. Prof. Scott on the other hand, says the research for the neurological causes of Gelotophobia is still ongoing. They are presently still exploring what occurs in children’s brains that may induce their extreme fear of being laughed at.

Currently, there are no identified treatments for Gelotophobia. Patients may seek medical advice from psychologists or psychiatrists to find which therapy would be best for their condition.


Past traumatic experiences may have triggered to developed Gelotophobia / Photo by Ion Chiosea via 123RF




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