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Automatonophobia is the fear of anything that falsely represents a sentient being and is a type of specific phobia. This includes, but is not limited to, ventriloquist dummies, animatronic creatures, mannequins, scarecrows, and wax statues. This fear can manifest itself in numerous ways, every individual who suffers from the fear of being different. Similar phobias include pupaphobia, the fear of puppets, and pediophobia, the fear of dolls.
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, such as in movies, games, or other media. The inanimate objects associated with automatonophobia represent human beings, often realistically, but do not display expected human behavior. It has been hypothesized that the brain might perceive the automaton as something dangerous or frightening because of this, such as 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 lifelike a fashion as human beings. John T. Wood's book, "What Are You Afraid Of?: A guide to dealing with your fears", states 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."
The concept of the 'uncanny valley' could be a potential explanation for 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.
So far, however, there has only been speculation as to the cause of automatonophobia. Indisputable conclusions have yet to be made.
In his book, Wood described people suffering from phobias as experiencing many different reactions. "The phobic person may experience heart palpitations, panic attacks, 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."
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 of 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.
- Killer toys
- Capgras delusion, in which an affected person believes that their loved ones have been replaced with doppelgängers
- 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.