Are you one of the many people who are afraid of clowns? Researchers dove deep into the fear and found some interesting things about its origins.

The team behind the study, which was published in Frontiers in Psychology, had a closer look at the fear of clowns, known as coulrophobia, and even created a questionnaire to assess it. The idea was to have a better understanding of the causes of coulrophobia.

Although the fear of clowns is prevalent in the general population, it has still been poorly understood and there hasn't been a study that looked deeper into its causes. Furthermore, its prevalence across studies has been quite inconsistent, they noted.

"In contemporary Western societies, clowns are typically depicted as friendly figures of fun and comedy, perhaps best embodied in those you would find in a circus or at a children's party. Yet, the seemingly pleasant circus clown can just as easily upset as entertain," the researchers wrote, citing some of the simple examples, like a shy child feeling embarrassed by a clown's tricky antics. "Uncertainty thus exists as to the potential of a clown to harm as well as charm."

To shed light on this fear, the researchers assessed its prevalence and, through their "The Origins of Fear of Clowns" questionnaire, looked at the possible causes behind it.

Out of the 987 participants, 528 (53.5%) said they had "some degree" of a fear of clowns. Five percent even noted that they were actually "extremely afraid" of clowns.

The prevalence of extreme fear is actually a little higher than that of other phobias like fear of closed spaces (2.2%) and fear of animals (3.8%), the team from the University of South Wales wrote in an article in The Conversation.

Women were more afraid of clowns, even though the reasons behind this are unclear. Researchers have also found that the fear actually wanes with age. Both these cases are said to be consistent with previous research on other phobias.

The questionnaire presented eight possible explanations for the fear, from an "eerie or unsettling feeling" because of clown make-up or their exaggerated facial features evoking a sense of threat, to an actual scary experience with a clown.

The strongest factor was "hidden emotional signals" as their make-up tends to hide their emotions, thus creating some sense of uncertainty, the researchers noted.

"We cannot see their 'true' faces and therefore cannot understand their emotional intent," the authors wrote. "Not being able to detect what a clown is thinking or what they might do next makes some of us on edge when we are around them."

Negative portrayals of clowns in media, for instance, Pennywise in the Stephen King novel "It," was also a strong contributing factor, and so were the clowns' unpredictable behavior and their "not-quite-human" appearance.

Interestingly, having a scary experience with a clown was the least picked factor. This shows life experience alone isn't enough to explain the fear. And although women appear to be more afraid of clowns, the researchers didn't find "statistically significant sex differences," suggesting common factors were behind the fear in both males and females.

Overall, it appears that the fear of clowns has "multi-factorial" origins. But further research could dive deeper into it.

"For instance, if makeup which masks emotions causes fear, do people who have their faces painted as animals also create the same kind of effect?" the authors said. "Or is there something more particular about the makeup of clowns that drives this fear?"