Gelotophobia is a fear of being laughed at, a type of social phobia. While most people do not like being laughed at, there is a sub-group of people that exceedingly fear being laughed at. Without obvious reasons, they relate laughter they hear to be directed at themselves. Since 2008, this phenomenon has attracted attention from scholars in psychology, sociology, and psychiatry, and has been studied intensively.
In his clinical observations, Dr. Michael Titze found that some of his patients seemed to be primarily worried about being laughed at. They tended to scan their environment for signs of laughter and ridicule. Furthermore, they reported that they had the impression of being ridiculous themselves. Additionally, Titze observed a specific movement pattern among them when they thought they were being laughed at—awkward, wooden movements that resembled those of wooden puppets. He described this state as “Pinocchio-syndrome”. Two other behaviours related to laughter are gelotophilia - the joy of being laughed at and katagelasticism - the joy of laughing at others.
Causes and consequences of gelotophobia
From the clinical observations a model of the causes and consequences of gelotophobia was drawn up  so that the condition could be studied scientifically. The model claims that gelotophobia can be caused by any one of three things at different stages of development:
The putative causes of gelotophobia:
- In infancy: development of primary shame failure to develop an interpersonal bridge i.e. failing infant–caregiver interactions
- In childhood & youth: repeated traumatic experiences of not being taken seriously i.e. being laughed at/ridiculed, for example, being bullied.
- In adulthood: intense traumatic experience of being laughed at or ridiculed e.g. bullying.
The consequences of gelotophobia:
- Social withdrawal to avoid being ridiculed
- Appear ‘cold as ice’/ humourless
- Psychosomatic disturbances e.g. blushing, tension headache, trembling, dizziness, sleep disturbances
- ‘Pinocchio Syndrome’ congeal, clumsy, ‘agelotic’ face, ‘wooden puppet
- Lack of liveliness, spontaneity, joy
- Humour/laughter are not relaxing and joyful social experiences
- anger; when they are laughed at by other people , in some cases this results in violent attacks on the persons whom were laughing 
Gelotophobic beliefs and outlook
Here is a quick checklist of gelotophobic behaviours that show if people are gelotophobic:
- Avoid social situations to avoid being laughed at or ridiculed
- Worry that people think they do not engage with them in a warm, friendly way or think they are humourless
- Find it hard to know what to say to people in a natural way
- Has low self-esteem due to feeling incompetent in social situations
- When people are talking and laughing, they feel their body getting tense, which then makes their movements appear wooden and stiff rather than being relaxed and natural
- Think they are not a lively person, are not spontaneous, and do not experience many joyful moments in their daily life
- Worry that they look ridiculous to others
Anyone who answers "yes" to at least half of these statements may be gelotophobic. As 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 gelotophobic will find that their social interactions are seriously affected.
Usually laughter is contagious and leads to positive emotions such as exhilaration and joy, yet no one likes to be laughed at or made fun of. Most people dislike being laughed at to some degree and gelotophobia can range from having no fear at all, to borderline, to pronounced or extreme gelotophobia.
Assessment of gelotophobia
There is a fifteen-item questionnaire for the subjective assessment of gelotophobia, e.g. the GELOPH<15>. This questionnaire has been used to show that gelotophobia exists, to varying degrees, in a normal population. It has been found on every continent and has, so far, had samples taken from 72 countries and the GELOPH<15> has been translated into over 42 different languages. Different countries vary in the amount of people, within the population, who are gelotophobes 
Research into gelotophobia using the GELOPH scales, shows that empirically, the condition does exist outside of those people who go into therapy because of the problems they are experiencing with being afraid of laughed at. In the first studies, gelotophobes were distinguished from other people with shame-based problems and non-shame based neurotics and samples of a normal population. Basically, this means that even though gelotophobia shares similarities with other problems, there are more differing aspects of it that make it a unique problem.
Gelotophobia and emotions
Although at face value the emotions relating to gelotophobia would be predominantly fear. However, there is a distinct interplay with three dominant emotions. The three emotions are low levels of joy and high levels of fear and shame. More importantly where shame in a typical week exceeds joy, gelotophobia is more likely to develop. Gelotophobes say that they are bad at regulating their emotions and they more easily pick up the negative moods of other people. They also control their emotions and do not express their feelings easily to others.
Gelotophobic perception and personality
Gelotophobes do not have the ability to understand the difference between playful forms of humorous interactions such as teasing and the more mean types such as ridicule. This means that even if someone is trying to be friendly and playful a gelotophobe will feel apprehensive and mistake the interaction for ridicule. It can also mean that people may feel they are being bullied when in fact it isn’t so.
Gelotophobes can be located in both the Eysenck PEN and the Big Five models of personality. Gelotophobia correlates highly with introversion and neuroticism. On older P-scales gelotophobes score higher in Psychoticism too. The dimensional assessment of personality pathology, a DSM personality disorder instrument showed that those with a fear of being laughed at tend to be socially avoidant, have identity problems and are submissive. Social withdrawal and suspiciousness most predicted gelotophobia.
Paul Lewis (Boston College, US) speculated whether political gelotophobia might affect elections in the US ("The twin fears of being effectively mocked or ineffective in mocking others [too harsh, blunt, tasteless] led candidates to aggressive and proactive strategies [going on TV to show they can take a joke, be funny—anything to avoid being rendered pathetically ridiculous or inappropriately derisive]") [p. 42, conference abstract from the 2009 conference of the International Society for Humor Studies ISHS in Long Beach, California]; Sociologist Christie Davies, who is also president of the ISHS comments satirically on the results of recent elections in the UK. He noticed that losers in those elections were frequently 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 disorder is to embrace absolutism".
Strengths, intelligence and humour ability
A number of tests show that gelotophobes often underestimate their own potential and achievements. Gelotophobes tend to see themselves as less virtuous than people who know them. In a similar way in an intelligence study, gelotophobes consistently underestimated their intellectual performance by as much as 6 IQ points. Gelotophobes have a different approach to laughter. Laughter does not lift their mood or make them more cheerful. They personally characterise their own humour as being inept yet again tests show that they are no different from other people at making witty remarks and humour.
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- Hrebícková, M., Ficková, E., Klementová, M., Ruch, W., & Proyer, R. T. (2009). Strach ze zesmesnení: Ceská a slovenská verze dotazníku pro zjistování gelotofobie [The Fear of being laughted at: The Czech and Slovak version of the GELOPH 15 for the assessment of gelotophobia]. Ceskoslovenská Psychologie, 53, 469-480.
- Kazarian, S., Ruch, W., & Proyer, R. T. (2009). The Gelotophobia in the Lebanon: The Arabic version of a questionnaire for the subjective assessment of the fear of being laughed at. Arab Journal of Psychiatry, 20, 42-56.
- Platt, T., Ruch, W., & Proyer, R. T. (2010). A lifetime of the fear of being laughed at: An aged perspective.. Zeitschrift für Gerontologie und Geriatrie, 43, 36-4.
- Proyer, R. T., & Ruch, W. (2010). Dispositions towards ridicule and being laughed at: Current research on gelotophobia, gelotophilia, and katagelasticism (Editorial to Special Issue).. Psychological Test and Assessment Modeling, 52(1), 49-59.
- Proyer, R.T., & Ruch, W. (2009). Intelligence and gelotophobia: The relations of self-estimated and psychometrically measured intelligence to the fear of being laughed at. Humor: International Journal of Humor Research, 22,165-181.
- Gelotophobia assessment and research association website
- Website on gelotophobia, by Tracey Platt
- Special Issue on gelotophobia in Humor: International Journal of Humor Research (1-2/2008)
- Website on multi-nation study, hosted by University of Zurich
- Special issue in Psychological Test and Assessment modeling entitled Dispositions towards ridicule and being laughed at: Current research on gelotophobia, gelotophilia, and katagelasticism; open access