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Automatonophobia is the fear of anything that falsely represents a sentient being; it is a type of specific phobia. This includes, but is not limited to, ventriloquist dummies, animatronic creatures, mannequins, and wax statues. This fear can manifest itself in numerous ways; every individual who suffers from the fear being different. A similar phobia is pupaphobia, the fear of puppets.
The cause of automatonophobia is currently unknown, though it has been theorized[by whom?] that the fear derives from the members of a society's expectations for how other human beings should behave. Some fears may be driven by the exposure to aggressive or frightening portrayals of robotic or inanimate objects. The inanimate objects associated with automatonophobia represent human beings, most being portrayed very realistically. People expect the same type of behavior from one another. These inanimate objects, though closely portraying humans, do not behave quite the same as real humans. People often fear what they do not understand. It has been hypothesized that the brain might perceive the automaton as something dangerous or frightening, like a corpse or a disfigured/diseased person, and urge the sufferer to be repulsed by it. Ventriloquist dummies, animatronic creatures, and wax statues all fit into this theory; they portray but do not necessarily behave in as life-like a fashion as human beings. John T. Wood in his book "What Are You Afraid Of?: A guide to dealing with your fears" says that the cause of phobias is a hard to thing to generalize about because "...each person's fears are his own and spring from his unique personality and experience." Another way is possibly made by a virtual contact with Ventriloquist dummies, animatronic creatures, and wax statues. Some examples are movies, games, and other media.
The concept of the 'uncanny valley' also comes to mind while looking at automatonophobia. This hypothesis states that when features of automatons are very realistic but still not fully convincing, it causes a response of revulsion or even fear.
These are just theories or hypothesis however; indisputable conclusions have yet to be made.
Wood in his book described people suffering from phobias as experiencing many different reactions. "The phobic person may experience heart palpitations, difficulty in breathing, rapid breathing, or choking sensations, nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea, shaking, shuddering, sweating, dizziness, insomnia, and/or increased sensitivity to sounds and lights."
Treatment of automatonophobia
Like many phobias, automatonophobia can be treated by a trained clinician with various techniques in psychotherapy. While seeking professional treatment may depend on severity of the problem, if the symptoms of the phobia intrude on daily life, it can be ineffective to simply avoid situations or environments that would trigger automatonophobia. Avoidance behaviours can be known to increase the intensity of the fear. Systematic desensitization is a particularly effective treatment for a wide range of phobias, including automatonophobia. This is an exposure therapy that allows sufferers to gradually become more comfortable with the target stimuli, and therefore significantly reduce symptoms.
As early as 1753 in England, Sir John Parnell in an engraving is shown to be speaking via his hand. In 1757, the ventriloquist Baron de Mengen implemented a small doll into his performance. This was the first known instance of the modern ventriloquism that is practiced today. The illusion that the Baron de Mengen created as his small doll being sentient, combined both the inanimate objects and consciousness of sense impressions that are necessary to automatonophobia.
The Baron de Mengen was able to create such a realistic illusion by pressing “his tongue strongly against his teeth and his left cheek, circumscribing in this way a cavity containing a volume of air, which for this purpose was kept in the reverse of the throat, to modify the sound of the voice, and make it appear as if it came from a distance.” Since the Baron de Mengen, many others have practiced the art of ventriloquism. Some notable ventriloquists include Shari Lewis, Jules Vernon, and Fred Russell.
In popular culture
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- The objects that are associated with automatonophobia can also be found in popular culture. Most often one can find them in movies, not only the objects themselves but automatonophobia itself being portrayed.
- The 1953 film “House of Wax”, is an example where the plot revolves around automatonophobia.
- In the Teletoon/Canada animated series Grojband, it is revealed that Trina, Corey's older sister, has had automatonophobia since she was a small child.
- In the King of the Hill episode, "Now Who's the Dummy," it is revealed that Dale has automatonophobia, having had childhood anxiety from memories involving a ventriloquist's dummy.
- Wood, John T. (1976). What Are You Afraid Of?: A guide to dealing with your fears. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice Hall. pp. 41–43.
- "Specific Phobia". AnxietyBC. AnxietyBC.
- "The Art of Improving the Voice and Ear". Book. Retrieved 2011-10-24.