What Is Fear of Dolls (Pediophobia)?

Learn more about common traits and treatment

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Fear of dolls, or pediophobia, is considered an anxiety disorder known as specific phobia. Pediophobia is a type of automatonophobia, which is a fear of inanimate objects that appear human or a fear of anything that simulates a real human being.

This article discusses the characteristics of pediophobia, as well as its causes, treatment, and ways to cope.

Little girl crying
Gianni Diliberto / Getty Images

Defining Pediophobia

The word "pediophobia" comes from the Greek word "paidion," which means little child.

People with pediophobia fear interaction with dolls or other inanimate objects. Even just seeing a humanlike object may cause severe panic. The reaction and response can vary significantly from person to person.

Inanimate objects can include dolls or anything else that appears humanlike, including:

  • Ventriloquist dummies
  • Wax museum statues
  • Humanoid robots
  • Department store mannequins
  • Animatronics or motorized puppets typically found in theme parks

Prevalence of Specific Phobias

Specific phobias are considered a type of anxiety disorder. In the United States, 12.5% of adults will experience a specific phobia in their lifetime.

Characteristics of Pediophobia

A specific phobia occurs when a person has a persistent and extreme fear of certain objects. Typically, people who have a specific phobia do their best to avoid encountering the object of their phobia, which may be an effective coping strategy in the short run.

Although people with phobias are usually aware that there isn't a real threat or danger from the object, they are powerless to stop their extensive or irrational fear. It's important to note that however irrational the fear and sense of danger may seem to others, it is very real to the person experiencing the phobia.

In the case of pediophobia, the phobic object is dolls, which may include humanlike dolls or stuffed toys.

Like most phobias, pediophobia can cause an array of mental and physical symptoms. These can include:

  • Racing heart or increased heart rate
  • Sweating, hot flashes, or chills
  • Shaking or trembling
  • Shortness of breath
  • Choking feelings
  • Chest pain
  • Upset stomach, nausea, or vomiting
  • Feeling dizzy or faint
  • Feelings of dread or doom

If you or your child experience any of these symptoms when encountering dolls, it may be due to pediophobia.

Diagnosis

To be diagnosed with pediophobia, a mental health professional will use the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), the American Psychiatric Association's official handbook, to diagnose mental health conditions like specific phobias.

A diagnosis of pediophobia usually involves a mental health professional confirming the following:

  • The specific phobia always causes immediate fear and anxiety.
  • The phobic object is purposely avoided or, if it can't be avoided, causes intense fear and anxiety.
  • The fear and anxiety are out of proportion to the danger or immediate threat.
  • The fear, anxiety, and avoidance are constant and consistent over time.
  • The distress is significantly impacting quality of life.

Multiple Phobias

Frequently, people who have one type of specific phobia may experience multiple phobias. Typically, 75% of people with specific phobia fear more than one situation or object.

What Causes Pediophobia?

Traditionally, a traumatic experience or some kind of negative experience with the phobic object is what triggers specific phobias like pediophobia. Direct circumstances, such as a negative experience with a doll or if a doll was used to scare a child, may cause a person to grow up and develop pediophobia.

Other causes of pedophobia include indirect experiences that stimulate and arouse fear. This may include the numerous horror films in which dolls are depicted in a negative, harmful, or terrifying way. Halloween can also bring on intense fear.

In some spiritual practices, dolls have been used to render a "curse" toward others, so for some people—even without a direct experience—dolls may represent evil.

There can also be familial, genetic, environmental, or developmental factors that play a part in developing pediophobia.

The Uncanny Valley Hypothesis

In the 1970s, a Japanese roboticist, Masahiro Mori, proposed the phenomenon of the uncanny valley, which is the eerie sensation, even revulsion, that occurs when we see robots carefully designed to look human.

Mori observed that as a robot's appearance becomes more and more humanlike, the reaction is generally positive, until the robot reaches an appearance so humanlike that it becomes disturbing. So even for those who do not experience pediophobia, the uncanny valley hypothesis suggests that humanlike beings become scarier the more profoundly human they appear.

Treatment

Studies have shown that psychotherapy, or a combination of therapy and medication, is most effective in treating specific phobias.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, is the most common type of therapy recommended for specific phobias.

This type of therapy explores a person's automatic thoughts and the feelings and behaviors that result from those thoughts. Examining how you think can help you choose a different thought or reaction to the thought.

Exposure Therapy

Exposure therapy, which involves increasing contact with the object a person fears and avoids, was considered the gold standard for phobia treatment for years. It remains the treatment of choice, although this approach might be less effective in the long term than previously thought.

Medications

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and selective serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) are recommended for treating anxiety disorders and may help in treating specific phobias.

These can include:

Coping With Pediophobia

The simplest way to manage a specific phobia like pediophobia is to avoid the triggering phobic object (in this case, dolls). This can be difficult when these encounters come up unexpectedly.

In those cases, there are some self-help coping techniques that may be beneficial, including:

  • Relaxation techniques: Try guided meditations or progressive relaxation, which can help reduce tension in the body.
  • Visualization: It may help to visualize a successful outcome of using your coping skills if and when you encounter the phobic object unexpectedly. If visualizing is too triggering, then it may be helpful to have the guidance of a counselor or therapist.
  • Group therapy: Check with your counselor or therapist about group therapy. Oftentimes, connecting with those who experience and understand your same issue is beneficial.

Seeking Help for Phobias

When a phobia is disruptive or limiting your life, it may help to seek professional support. You can contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline online or call 1-800-662-4357 for more information on how to find support and treatment options specific in your area.

For more mental health resources, including a helpful list of links and hotline numbers, see our National Helpline Database.

Summary

Pediophobia is a fear of dolls or inanimate, humanlike objects. It may be caused by a traumatic event or a negative exposure to dolls. Pediophobia can be treated similarly to other phobias, such as with therapy and/or medication.

A Word From Verywell

Pediophobia can be an upsetting condition, especially for young children who may be exposed to dolls regularly during play. While it may be challenging for others to understand, the fear is very real to the person experiencing it, both physically and mentally. It may be helpful to work with a mental health professional if the phobia is negatively affecting your quality of life. Treatment and coping methods are available to help you live with pediophobia.

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11 Sources
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