August 27th, 2010
11:30 AM ET

Afraid of being laughed at?

It's a funny name for a concept about laughter: gelotophobia is the fear of being laughed at. "Gelo" means laughter and "phobia" means fear in Greek.

But the concept is not a mere amusement for researchers, who are developing tools to study a fear that, in extreme form, can lead to real social isolation. A new study in the European Review of Applied Psychology looked at the French version of short questionnaire for identifying gelotophobes, finding it a useful and reliable tool for finding people who fear the laughter of others.

With this fear, you have negative reactions to laughter from other people - even strangers - and believe it's intended to put you down, the study said. Psychologists have described gelotophobic people as becoming suspicious when they hear other people laughing, and assume it's directed at them even if there's no good reason for that.

Like other phobias, the fear of being laughed at can have serious negative consequences in a person's life. German psychologist Michael Titze has described how this fear can make a person lonely and distrustful and frequently feel shame.

The new research looked at 218 people from the French part of Switzerland and 245 people from Quebec, Canada. Study authors found that fear of being laughed at was independent of the participants' age, sex or marital status, and that average scores for gelotophobia were similar for the two groups of participants.

Titze coined the terms gelotophobia as well as "Pinocchio Complex," referring to how people get "stuck" when they are so afraid that laughter is directed at them. He described it in a 1996 interview with Humor & Health Journal:

These people have never learned to appreciate humor and laughter positively. I see this condition as being analogous to Pinocchio who was a marionette or puppet made of wood. In the physical sphere, many emotions manifest themselves in our muscles. We communicate by the way we carry and present ourselves. When fear is experienced every being gets stiff and develops muscular tension.

Recent studies have found that gelotophobia is related to social anxiety, but not to specific fears (such as fear of heights or animals). Bullying may relate to gelotophobia also, as some people who are afraid of being laughed at experienced bullying in the past.

Treatment of gelotophobia has not been extensively studied, and there is no empirically tested intervention for it, the new European study said. But some researchers such as Titze have found benefits with therapies involving helping people become more comfortable with humor.

soundoff (50 Responses)
  1. janet

    Here in todays news a woman 603 lbs! was lifted from her housa nad she was not afraid to be laughed at http://pplr.us/s/0xQ8/

    August 27, 2010 at 11:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Ivan

    There is a website where you can test your gelotophobia score!


    August 27, 2010 at 12:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Henry

    Gelotophobia is no fun. There is actually a website where you can get a diagnosis http://www.gelotophobia.org if any of you are wondering why you turn to jelly when you watch a comedian!

    August 27, 2010 at 12:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Nik

    I have been laughed at many times. But I always say "Put yourself in my shoes for a day and let me start laughing back at you and see how you feel? I was called the most horrid name "Four Eyes" because I wore glasses, so I said, wait till you need glasses after wearing contacts. I wear them now for reading watching movies or take them off when sleeping. I use glasses to see fine print.

    August 27, 2010 at 13:36 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Susan

      I don't think you can compare your relatively normal experience with people who have a short circuit in their brain which completely misinterprets laughter, as is described in this article. What you are saying reminds me of people who tell depressed people, cheer up, or just snap out of it. Have a little sympathy.

      August 28, 2010 at 12:27 | Report abuse |
  5. sag coopersmith

    hmmmm I think I have this..it's why I spend so much time on the internet! AND I can get really upset when people make fun of me on the internet too! I think it all stems from being ridiculed as a tiny child. My own family teased me about everything. Getting older helps because you come to realize that you won't die from being laughed at.

    August 27, 2010 at 14:13 | Report abuse | Reply
    • BurningDiode

      I agree with that 100%. My own family (cousins) and brother's friends will make fun of me alot.

      August 28, 2010 at 13:15 | Report abuse |
  6. misplacedtexan

    Name "gelotophobia" sounds more like fear of gelato or ice cream. LoL

    August 27, 2010 at 14:14 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Greg McMuffin

      Hey misplacedtexan! LoL? Are you laughing at ME? You big jerk.

      August 27, 2010 at 16:18 | Report abuse |
  7. El

    Address the paranoia (physical cause?) With the social phobia, the person can adjust. Help a person feel more confident about themselves; highlight the positives and downplay the negatives. Hopefully they'll find themselves on the road to a happier life.

    I, personally, don't care about how others feel. It's my opinion that if someone feels it's necessary to make fun of another, then THEY have their own issues. The situation becomes THEIR problem, not the victims.

    People (sheeple) need to do more about bullying (all facets), not sit back and let it happen. I can't tolerate bullying of any kind, and don't hesitate to intervene.

    August 27, 2010 at 14:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. David

    We're all far more normal than we are willing to acknowledge.

    I'm sorry if "normal" doesn't sound as sexy as having "gelotophobia", but normal is what most of us are.

    We get nervous when speaking in public, we don't like being laughed at, we get happy, we get sad, we get anxious, we fear, we desire.

    It is only when we don't have these normal human feelings that we should begin to worry....

    August 27, 2010 at 15:26 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Nate

      David: And do "normal" people feel intensely paranoid they are being talked about or laughed at whenever they walk past a group of people who suddenly bust out laughing? Yeah, I didn't think so. How about leaving the diagnosis to the pros huh?

      August 29, 2010 at 12:13 | Report abuse |
    • Jim Garner

      David, you sure sound like a guy who really understands people in general, and has an understanding of people that most other people don't have. I try to empathize with people myself, if theyare going through the same types of things that i am. This world sure could use more people like you in it, and less people that aren't.

      January 9, 2017 at 00:12 | Report abuse |
  9. Abby

    I find it odd that there is an actual phobia for what people have always refered to as plain old social anxiety. I empathize, don't get me wrong. I used to skip meals in high school from time to time because walking into a room full of people made me feel naseous...and then I grew up. My family teased me too, that's what families do.

    I still seize up from time to time, especially meeting new people, but life is for living and if you are going to let fear rule your life, then it is a sorry day for you.

    August 27, 2010 at 15:38 | Report abuse | Reply
    • j

      u say sorry day?? it is crippling having sa.

      August 28, 2010 at 20:09 | Report abuse |
    • Jorge

      I came to this site after typing in "being laughed at" on google. so i came here wanting to know if people feel the way i do. it's not easy to just let the "fear" go away. it's like telling an addict stop doing drugs...it takes time to get better with the help from other people. growing up i was teased on by other kids who called me fat,stupid,who hit me..i was shy and i almost never ever fought back. my mom was working all the time to provide for myself and 2 siblings . my dad was arrested when i was only 6 and i never got to see him again outside because he earned 3 strikes. most of my life i never had anyone to talk to. i still kind of don't...i just took the teasing...i took the beatings from my mom because she was always cranky and upset when she was home..she was always stressed out from bills and drama that it felt like she took it out on me. now i'm 22 i hardly go out. i haven't had a job in close to 3 years. i have almost no friends. most i just talk to online. they ask me to hang out with them. invite me to shows . i always say maybe. but i know i'm not going. because i can't handle being around people. i always have this feeling that they are laughing at me. even if it's just a smile. i don't know if it's a "hi how are you smile" or i'm smiling because i think you're joke smile....in an hour or so i have to pick up my little brother from school. i have been dreading it all day. and the school is literally next to our apartment building....finding this article at least made me understand that at least i'm kind of normal. because other people have it too. my family doesn't understand. and all my mom ever talks about is how i should get a job..but it doesn't feel that simple to me. and i wish it were

      October 26, 2011 at 17:11 | Report abuse |
  10. Phobia


    August 27, 2010 at 15:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Me

    I laugh at myself and it bums me out...

    August 27, 2010 at 16:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Dr Bill Toth

    I believe that any behavior that is learned can be unlearned. Somewhere along the line the individuals Interpreted or rather Mis-interpreted someone's laughter as meaning they were inferior. They then chose a response of withdrawal or discomfort
    based upon the meaning they attached to the laughter. We all assign meaning to the communications we receive and that meaning may be far different than the intent.
    Live with Intention,

    August 27, 2010 at 17:54 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Charley

      Absolutely true. What is learned can be unlearned. What is fact can be made un-fact. What is genetic can be made un-genetic. All of those statements are equally logical. Including your original statement.

      August 29, 2010 at 13:24 | Report abuse |
  13. r

    Gelatophobia: the fear of gelato.

    August 27, 2010 at 19:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Joe

    I like poop.

    August 27, 2010 at 21:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. KC

    My ex always assumed everyone was laughing at him and talking bad about him. It was even worse when people were speaking in other languages; I'd assure him that the Mexicans at the next table were discussing a family wedding, but he was sure they were making fun of him and would make a big scene accusing me of not translating accurately. Then people really WERE laughing at the crazy man pitching a hissy fit.

    August 28, 2010 at 00:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. Grumpyoldlady

    Laughter is something like a gun – it can hurt people so you need to be careful where you point it. Mockery and ridicule are all too often forms of bullying, especially among children, and just like physical violence they can leave lasting scars that are carried into adulthood. The worst kind of bully is the one who disguises cruelty as a "joke" and then replies "ain't you got no sense of humor" or "chill, it was a joke" to any protest. Gelatophobia is a learned response to actual life experiences and the "cure" starts with recognizing those experiences as true and valid, just not universal.

    August 28, 2010 at 11:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. becky


    August 28, 2010 at 14:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Robert Meek

    First, let me say that nowadays it doesn't bother me. I turn 53 next month, but as a child, and even as a young adult in my 20s, and in my 30s, it was very much a problem for me.

    It started once I was in first grade, and continued to various degrees, throughout my schooling. It was worse in the "private Christian schools" my parents put me in, than in the PUBLIC schools I went to for 3, 6, and part of 7 grade.

    Once we left the first church we went to, from before when I was born (Emmanuel Lutheran Church), it started, to various degrees, and I never felt welcome, at home, in one, again.

    Ironically, other than having been premature, and a tad smaller, and not as fast physically as my peers, for the first few years, there really wasn't anything that unique about me to bring it on. And of course, I now know that I wasn't the only one. It was the bullies versus us nice kids, and unlike them, we didn't group together. It was always 3 against one, or such as that, in their favor, of course.

    As a young adult working full time as a RN, I remember taking my mother to lunch on a day off from work. We were in some restaurant somewhere. I know the city we were in, Greensboro, NC, but not the restaurant. Too long ago.

    Anyway, at a nearby table where about 4 young adults, sharing a time together at lunch, enjoying themselves, laughing. Together.

    It had nothing to do with me. As far as they were concerned, I didn't even exist several tables away from them.

    Yet, the tenor of the sound of their laugher caught me off guard. It sounded reminiscent of the times I was laughed AT, and TAUNTED, and TEASED.

    And I felt a swirling rise of hate and rage from deep inside me begin to swell up, and I had to do some serious talking myself down, in my head, reminding myself that it was not about me, they didn't know me, etc.

    Part of me knew that, but part of me "felt" like as if it WAS about me because of how it SOUNDED – like when I WAS laughed at, ages ago.

    And I suddenly realized, that had I taken a wrong turn, had I made a wrong decision, that I could have turned out to be one of those enraged irrational violet sociopaths, because of what I was experiencing.

    Fortunately, for me, my upbringing made me strong enough to see beyond that.

    I mentioned it to mother. She said, casually, "I know, darling," but she didn't. This became evident years later, when my then partner told her that I harbored a lot of anger about my childhood, and I was driving her places, after father died. She misunderstood, and was sobbing in my car, wailing that she didn't understand, that she and father had done the best that they could, etc. I explained, flabbergasted, that it had nothing to do with them at all.

    She then said if she had known she would have done something about it. I countered that she did know. And added what exactly would she have done about it. She was silent. I said, exactly, that was my point, that she was helpless to do anything about it. She didn't have the power to change it.

    She agreed. I was just glad that she realized it was all about the kids, my peers, not her and my father.

    August 28, 2010 at 15:02 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Reaper

      This post could have been shortened by about 5000 characters. People are too tired to laugh at you now, all they can muster is a feeble yawn.

      August 31, 2010 at 15:42 | Report abuse |
  19. You'llneverguess

    This is another example of how people make a living off of telling people what they want to hear. The "researchers" are looking for ways to support the status-quo. Good way to make money. Doing that takes finding non-status-quo people. And saying that they have a problem. That's someone like me. Laughter means something. It comes from people's basic evaluations of life. Laughter is powerful. And it doesn't even mean someone elses laughter has to be directed at you for you to be disturbed by it. All that is required is that it represent values you don't share, and it's your values the person isn't taking seriously. You can tell what people are laughing at by signs which show what that person's values are, like how they dress or behave. Heck if you are aware of someone in the room unlike yourself, then all it takes to disturb them is to laugh at anything. All that matters is that the laughter represents your values, and you make sure they overhear you. This "study" seems to treat laughter as if it's not tied to any particular point of view. But laughter is one of the most powerful expressions of someone's point of view. Saying someone has a short-circuit in the brain if what many people laugh at bothers them works to completely discredit any point of view about life, besides the "researchers", and the majority of laughers. What's wrong with "studies" like this are that they further humiliate people already being humiliated. It's not paranoia. It's value-choice and statistics. Also, saying that someone just never learned to appreciate laughter because they don't find you funny is egotistical. And that's what this type of "research " panders to, which makes calling it research laughable. BY the way, just for your amusement, I'm not a "researcher" . Must be why I'm broke. My post is more intelligent than their "research", and yet I don't get paid for it. Puts the phrase "laughing all the to the bank" into clearer focus at least.

    August 28, 2010 at 16:56 | Report abuse | Reply
    • MashaSobaka

      You'llneverguess...I'm guessing that you didn't quite understand the point of the article.

      August 28, 2010 at 18:38 | Report abuse |
  20. V Saxena

    I definitely have this. Everytime I'm in public and I hear people laughing, I immediately assume they're laughing at me. I start trying to figure out why... is it what I'm wearing... is it how I'm walking? Just at the grocery story today I froze in place when two women at the other end of the aisle started laughing like crazy. I still strongly believe they were laughing at me. Thankfully I've become strong enough that it doesn't really bother me all that much anymore. RARELY does laughter ruin my day, though it does lower my mood slightly.

    August 28, 2010 at 19:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. Jerry Seinfeld

    This is serious, people. 1 in 4 comedians suffer from this.

    August 28, 2010 at 19:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. keezersoze

    People are disgusting creatures.

    August 28, 2010 at 20:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. Wanda

    This circumstance is where a possee comes in handy. I learned this the hard way back in middle school. All you need to do when you suspect you are being laughed at , teased or talked about is meet the person whom is laughing at you with a group of your friends and proceed to beat the living cr3p out of them. Trust me, when word gets back around that they got beat up, no one and I mean NO ONE will ever be laughing, staring or even talking about you ever again!

    August 29, 2010 at 09:39 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. Anna

    It's interesting that there is a term for this phobia that I've experienced all my life. I did experience a lot of bullying throughout my childhood for being very slightly overweight, a straight A student, and very quiet. To this day, even though I have come out of my shell a lot and work out 5 days a week, if I am in a public place where I see a group of "normal" people laughing I check myself over (Do I have something on my face? Do I look fat in this outfit?) and worry that they are laughing at me.

    My particular fear only comes into play with others in-person though. A comedian on TV, for example, has no effect on me because they don't know I'm there. Also, if my boyfriend or a friend is laughing at me I don't have a problem with it because I know they are not being malicious. It's just if the person or group of people are strangers in a public place.

    August 29, 2010 at 14:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. Reaper

    There's nothing funny about laughter.


    August 31, 2010 at 15:33 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. John


    July 6, 2011 at 11:51 | Report abuse | Reply
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    Several types of phobias exist. Some people fear large, open spaces. Others are unable to tolerate certain social situations. And still others have a specific phobia, such as a fear of snakes, elevators or flying. -**'

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