Automatonophobia: What Is It and How Is It Treated?

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Updated on July 7, 2021

Have you ever felt a chill down your spine when looking at a doll, wax figure, or other kind of inanimate object that looks like a human? If so, you are not alone. It is actually not that uncommon to experience discomfort around human-like figures. In fact, some people become so distressed around these objects, that it impairs on their daily lives.

woman looking at mannequin

Automatonophobia is the fear of human-like figures, such as mannequins, wax figures, dummies, animatronics, or robots. Psychologists do not typically use this precise term but rather refer to specific phobias from a more general perspective. So, while the term automatonophobia may not be something that psychologists and mental health professionals specifically treat, the symptoms that come along with automatonophobia are definitely treatable.[1]

Causes

No one really knows where specific phobias come from, and automatonophobia is no different. It is possible that horror movies and other media could exacerbate the fears that people have about these inanimate human-looking objects. They may also be the result of traumatic events that occurred involving human-like objects.[2] Lastly, some people simply seem to be more genetically predisposed to anxiety disorders and specific phobias.[3]

Symptoms

Whatever the cause, some people do report experiencing excessive fear and panic symptoms when one of these human-like figures is present. Mental health professionals may diagnose you with the specific phobia of automatonophobia when human-looking figures cause you to:

  • Experience irrational and excessive fear when their is no current threat to your safety
  • Avoid being in their presence
  • Experience intense anxiety like a panic attack or other forms of distress

To meet criteria, this fear must:

  • Have been present for 6 or more months
  • Impact your social, occupational, and/or educational life
  • Limit your ability to function normally

So, if you are not in regular contact with human-looking objects, this fear may not meet the required criteria. However, if for example, you work in a wax museum or a clothing store where there are real life mannequins, this may impact your life significantly to the point that your symptoms could meet criteria for a phobia.

Treatments

If the symptoms of automatonophobia are causing you significant distress, seeking support from a mental health professional who treats phobias can help. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is the main treatment that is used to improve symptoms of specific phobias like automatonophobia.[4] A therapist will help you understand how your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are all correlated and how your fears could be impacting your life.

Some therapists may chose exposure therapy for treatment, during which they will use gradual exposure to help you retrain your brain’s current fear responses to get to a place where you are not as debilitated from the sight of a human-looking object.[5] A trained professional will be able to assist in confronting and alleviating your fears. They will also teach coping skills to improve your quality of life.

Summary

Like some other specific phobias, automatonophobia may sound strange to some people, but can cause real distress to those that experience it. The good news is that treatment is readily available and effective. Contact a licensed therapist who can help you to overcome your phobia for a life free of this fear.


References

  1. Hamm A. O. (2009). Specific phobiasThe Psychiatric clinics of North America32(3), 577–591. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.psc.2009.05.008
  2. Garcia R. (2017). Neurobiology of fear and specific phobiasLearning & memory (Cold Spring Harbor, N.Y.)24(9), 462–471. https://doi.org/10.1101/lm.044115.116
  3. Gottschalk, M. G., & Domschke, K. (2017). Genetics of generalized anxiety disorder and related traitsDialogues in clinical neuroscience19(2), 159–168. https://doi.org/10.31887/DCNS.2017.19.2/kdomschke
  4. Galvao-de Almeida, A., Araujo Filho, G. M., Berberian, A., Trezsniak, C., Nery-Fernandes, F., Araujo Neto, C. A., Jackowski, A. P., Miranda-Scippa, A., & Oliveira, I. R. (2013). The impacts of cognitive-behavioral therapy on the treatment of phobic disorders measured by functional neuroimaging techniques: a systematic reviewRevista brasileira de psiquiatria (Sao Paulo, Brazil : 1999)35(3), 279–283. https://doi.org/10.1590/1516-4446-2012-0922
  5. Böhnlein, J., Altegoer, L., Muck, N. K., Roesmann, K., Redlich, R., Dannlowski, U., & Leehr, E. J. (2020). Factors influencing the success of exposure therapy for specific phobia: A systematic reviewNeuroscience and biobehavioral reviews108, 796–820. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neubiorev.2019.12.009
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Dr. Shannon McHugh is a Licensed Clinical and Forensic Psychologist in Los Angeles, California. She specializes in assessment and treatment of children, adolescents, and adults who have developmental and social delays, behavioral difficulties, and those who have experienced traumatic events