Fear Of Being Laughed At (Gelotophobia): Causes, Consequences, Strengths

Fear of being laughed at or gelotophobia is closely related to social phobia. Although most people do not like to be laughed at, there is a sub-group of people who are excessively afraid of being laughed at. For no apparent reason, they relate the laughter they hear to themselves. Since 2008, this phenomenon has attracted the attention of scholars in psychology, sociology, and psychiatry and has been the subject of intensive study.

In his clinical observations, Dr. Michael Titze found that some of his patients seemed to be primarily concerned with being laughed at. They tended to look around for signs of laughter and ridicule. Furthermore, they reported that they had the impression of being ridiculous. He also observed a specific movement pattern between them when they thought they were laughing out loud, wooden movements that resembled those of wooden puppets.

He described this state as “Pinocchio syndrome.” Two other behaviors related to laughter are gerontophilia, the joy of being laughed at, and katagelasticism, the joy of laughing at others.

You may also be interested in reading: Fear Of Clowns: Origin, Causes, Symptoms, Treatment


From the clinical observations, a model of the causes and consequences of gelotophobia was developed to study the disease scientifically. The model states that gelotophobia can be caused by any of three things at different stages of development:

The presumed causes of gelotophobia:

In the childhood

  • Development of primary shame, failure to develop an interpersonal bridge (e.g., unsupported infant-caregiver interactions).

In childhood and youth

  • Repeated traumatic experiences of not being taken seriously or ridiculed (e.g., bullying).

In adulthood

  • The intense traumatic experience of being ridiculed or ridiculed (e.g., teasing).


The consequences of gelotophobia:

  • Social withdrawal to avoid being ridiculed.
  • It appears ‘cold as ice’ / humorless.
  • Psychosomatic disorders, e.g., flushing, tension headache, tremors, dizziness, sleep disturbances.
  • Demonstrate ‘Pinocchio Syndrome:’ awkward face, ‘athletic,’ ‘wooden puppet’ appearance.
  • Lack of vitality, spontaneity, joy.
  • Inability to experience humor/laughter as joyful and relaxing social experiences.
  • Anger at being ridiculed by other people (in some cases, this results in violent attacks on people who were laughing).
  • Later this model was revised and expanded.

Beliefs and perspectives

Here’s a quick list of geotropic behaviors that suggest people are geotropic:

  • They avoid social situations to avoid being ridiculed or ridiculed.
  • They worry that people think they don’t relate to them in a warm and friendly way or don’t have a sense of humor.
  • They struggle to know what to say to people in a “natural” way.
  • They have low self-esteem due to feeling incompetent in social situations.
  • When people talk and laugh, your body tense up, making your movements appear wooden and stiff rather than relaxed and natural.
  • They think that they are not living people, that they are not spontaneous, and that they do not experience many moments of joy in their daily life.
  • They worry that others will find it ridiculous.

Anyone who shows or experiences at least half of these characteristics can be geotropic. Since 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 gelotophobia will find their social interactions seriously affected.

  • Laughter is usually contagious and leads to positive emotions like euphoria and joy, yet no one likes to be laughed at or made fun of.
  • Most people do not want to be laughed at to some degree, and gelotophobia can range from having no fear to borderline, pronounced, or extreme gelotophobia.


  • There is a fifteen-item questionnaire for the subjective evaluation of gelotophobia, for example, the GELOPH <15>.
  • This questionnaire has shown that gelotophobia exists in an average population to a greater or lesser degree.
  • It has been found on all continents, and to date, 72 countries have been sampled and GELOPH <15> has been translated into more than 42 different languages.
  • Sociologist Christie-Davies predicts a higher prevalence of gelotophobia in hierarchically organized societies where the primary means of social control is a shame.
  • Research on gelotophobia using the GELOPH scales shows that empirically, the condition exists outside of people seeking therapy because they experience a troublesome fear of being laughed at.
  • In early studies, gelotophobia was distinguished from other people with shame-based problems and non-shame-based neurotics and samples from an average population.
  • Although gelotophobia shares similar problems, high scores for these criteria were also found in individuals with Asperger syndrome and group A personality disorders.
  • The fear of laughter among children and adolescents has also been studied through modifications of these diagnostic instruments.


Although at first glance, the emotions related to gelotophobia would be predominantly fear, there is a clear interaction with three dominant emotions:

  • Low levels of joy, high levels of fear, and high levels of shame. More importantly, when embarrassment in a typical week exceeds pleasure, gelotophobia is more likely to develop.
  • They also suppress the expression of their emotions and do not share their feelings easily with others.

Perception and personality

Gelotophobes cannot understand the difference between playful forms of humorous interactions such as teasing and more cruel forms such as ridicule.

This means that even if someone is trying to be friendly and playful, a xenophobic will feel apprehensive and mistake the interaction for ridicule.

  • It can also mean that people may feel intimidated when they are not.
  • Gelotophobes are often found in the Eysenck PEN and the Big Five personality models.
  • Gelotophobia is highly correlated with introversion and neuroticism, and on older P scales, gelotophobia scores higher on psychoticism.
  • Dimensional assessment of personality pathology, a DSM personality disorder instrument, showed that people with a fear of being laughed attend to be socially evasive and submissive, as well as have identity problems.
  • Social isolation and mistrust are more frequent predictors of gelotophobia.

Paul Lewis (Boston College, USA) speculated whether political gelotophobia could affect the US elections (‘Twin fears of being effectively mocked or ineffective in mocking others too harsh, direct, insipid led to candidates for aggressive and proactive strategies [being on television to show that they can accept jokes, be funny – anything that avoids being pathetically ridiculous or inappropriately teased’), a summary of the 2009 conference of the International Society for Humor Studies ISHS in Long Beach, California;

Sociologist Christie Davies, who is also the president of the ISHS, satirically comments on the results of the recent UK elections. He noted that the losers in those elections were often bald – “To be bald is to suffer from gelotophobia, to fear being laughed at; to fear being laughed at is to fear disorder; to fear the disease is to embrace absolutism. ‘

Strengths, intelligence and sense of humor

  • Several tests show that gelotophobes often underestimate their potential and achievements.
  • Gelotophobes tend to see themselves as less virtuous than the people who know them.
  • Similarly, in an intelligence study, gelotophobes consistently underestimated their academic performance by 6 IQ points.
  • Gelotophobes have a different experience of laughter: it does not elevate their mood or make them more cheerful.
  • They characterize their humor as inept; once again, tests show that they are no different from other people in making witty comments and humor.

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Hello, how are you? My name is Georgia Tarrant, and I am a clinical psychologist. In everyday life, professional obligations seem to predominate over our personal life. It's as if work takes up more and more of the time we'd love to devote to our love life, our family, or even a moment of leisure.