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Automatonophobia is the fear of anything that falsely represents a sentient being. 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.[1] A similar phobia is pupaphobia, the fear of puppets.


The cause of automatonophobia is currently unknown, though it has been theorized 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. 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.[2] John T. Wood in his book "What Are You Afraid Of?: A guide to dealing with your fears" says that the cause of phobias are a hard to thing to generalize about because ".. each person's fears are his own and spring from his unique personality and experience." [3]


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." [3]

Treatment of automatonophobia[edit]

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.[4] 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.


The origins of automatonophobia can be dated to thousands of years ago. It has been said that through necromancy, or divination by communication with the dead, "...that ventriloquism finds its origins."[citation needed] At about 1500 BC the Israelites were outlawed from practicing necromancy. Even with the penalty of death enforced, the practice of necromancy still continued. Very similar to ventriloquists today, belly speakers arose.[citation needed] These speakers, or prophets, would pretend that dead spirits were speaking through them. To convince their audiences, the belly speakers would implement strategies that are still used by ventriloquists today. They would exercise tight lip control along with a voice other than their own.[citation needed] Necromancy, despite the many laws that were passed throughout the centuries, continued to flourish. Eventually it grew into a form of entertainment that the world associates with today.[citation needed]

As early as 1753 in England, Sir John Parnell in an engraving is shown to be speaking via his hand.[5] In 1757, the ventriloquist Baron de Mengen implemented a small doll into his performance.[6] 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.”[6] 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[edit]

  • 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 just one example where the plot revolves around automatonophobia. This movie was recreated in 2005 adding new twists of horror.
  • In the movie Dead Silence, a young man, Jamie, seeks to unravel the mystery behind his wife’s murder. His only clue is an old ventriloquist dummy.
  • Killer toys films like Chucky in the Child's Play series, Magic, Devil Doll, Twilight Zone, and Dead of Night are all movies that sufferers of automatonophobia should avoid, especially if their fear is primarily of ventriloquist dummies.
  • 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.
  • The 2014 indie horror game Five Nights at Freddy's is based around a lone night watchman at a family entertainment center being hunted by animatronic cartoon animals, which falsely resemble said cartoon animals.

See also[edit]

Killer toys
Uncanny valley


  1. ^
  2. ^
  3. ^ a b 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. 
  4. ^ AnxietyBC. AnxietyBC |url= missing title (help). 
  5. ^
  6. ^ a b "The Art of Improving the Voice and Ear". Book. Retrieved 2011-10-24.