What Is Automatonophobia or Fear of Human-Like Figures?

Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

Wax figures of presidents

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What Is Automatonophobia?

Automatonophobia is the fear of automatons, wax figures, humanoid robots, audio-animatronics, or other figures designed to represent humans. Automatons are considered a hallmark of new technology and are proudly displayed in many types of locations, ranging from museums and theme parks to carnivals.

Automatonophobia is a specific phobia, which is an irrational fear of something that actually isn't dangerous. While it is relatively common to feel nervous around human-like figures (a phenomenon called the uncanny valley), a phobia disrupts a person's life. Someone with a phobia develops maladaptive coping mechanisms in order to avoid the object of their fear.

This article covers what automatonophobia is, and what its causes, symptoms, and complications are. You'll learn how doctors or mental health professionals diagnose this phobia, as well as the most common treatment methods for phobias.

Symptoms of Automatonophobia

This fear can manifest in many ways. Some people are afraid only of wax figures, others of dolls. Some are unable to visit theme parks or other attractions which use moving humanoid figures called audio-animatronics in their displays.

If you suffer from automatonophobia, you experience extreme anxiety when you come into contact with or even have thoughts about the object of your fear.

You may also experience shaking, crying, heart palpitations, and other physical effects when confronted by the object of your fear. You may be unable to enter a display that houses automatons. If you encounter one unexpectedly, you may run away, freeze in place, or even hide.

Diagnosis of Automatonophobia

According to the fifth edition of the "Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders" (DSM-5), healthcare providers should use these criteria to determine whether someone has a diagnosable phobia:

  • The person experiences an irrational fear that is out of proportion to any real danger.
  • The fear causes significant disturbance to their everyday life (causing disruptions at work, in their relationships, and in their personal life).
  • They exhibit avoidance behavior in order to steer clear of the feared object.
  • The fear and related behaviors have lasted at least six months.

A doctor may also evaluate whether you have any co-existing mental health conditions that are contributing to your phobia. Specific phobias often occur alongside other anxiety disorders or mood disorders.

Causes of Automatonophobia

Phobias can have a variety of causes including:

  • You had a negative experience or trauma with the feared object.
  • You inherited the phobia (phobias have genetic influences).
  • You learned to be afraid of the object (i.e., you had a parent with this fear).

Automatonophobia may be influenced by our own innate expectations of human behavior. Whether they are programmed to move and talk or they simply stand silently, automatons look but do not behave like humans.

In general, it's common for people to feel uncomfortable in the presence of human replicas. While many figures, mannequins, or robots resemble humans, we inherently have the awareness that they are not real, which often feels chilling or unsettling.

Automatonophobia is often thought to be related to maskaphobia, which is the fear of masks. Pediophobia, or the fear of dolls, is also related to automatonophobia.

How a fear develops into a phobia isn't always clear. However, the reasons above (trauma, genetics, and conditioning) may make a person more at risk for developing a specific phobia. In addition, you may be at a higher risk of developing a phobia if you also have a mental health condition such as an anxiety disorder or a mood disorder.

Role in Popular Culture

Automatonophobia has been exploited in numerous books, television shows, and films. Perhaps the best-known example is the original Vincent Price version of House of Wax. Originally shown in 3D to heighten the effect, the 1953 movie focuses on a wax sculptor who seeks revenge.

Treatment for Automatonophobia

Automatonophobia is treatable. The exact course that treatment takes will depend on your specific symptoms, their severity, and the impact that the phobia has on your life.

Therapy

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a common form of therapy used for conditions like anxiety and depression. It can help you learn to replace negative thoughts about automatons with more rational messages. A therapist may teach you relaxation exercises to use when anxiety flares as a result of your phobia.

You may also try systematic desensitization, in which you are gradually exposed to the object of your fear under the supervision of a therapist.

Some people with phobias find hypnotherapy useful as well. Usually, you work with a hypnotherapist to create suggestions or goals, such as "I feel at ease when I encounter a mannequin at the mall; I understand it can't hurt me." Then, the therapist communicates and repeats these suggestions to you while you are in a meditative state.

The idea of hypnotherapy is that your subconscious mind absorbs the messages you want yourself to embody, so that you can overcome your anxiety response to the object of your fear.

When seeking out therapy for automatonophobia or any phobia, be sure to choose a therapist you trust. It's OK to meet with a few different therapists until you find someone you feel comfortable with.

You can even ask a therapist to have a preliminary phone call in which you ask them about what to expect during a session so you feel more comfortable going in.

Medication

Sometimes, a doctor will recommend a medication for you to take while you attend therapy. Some medications may help reduce your fear and make it feel more manageable as you learn long-term ways to cope.

Common medications prescribed to those with specific phobias include antidepressants like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). Examples of SSRIs include Prozac (fluoxetine) or Zoloft (sertraline). Or, a doctor may recommend a selective serotonin-norepinephrine inhibitor (SNRI) such as Effexor (venlafaxine).

Other medications prescribed for phobias include tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs) such as Tofranil (imipramine) or Anafranil (clomipramine) or anti-anxiety medications such as Klonopin (clonazepam) or Xanax (alprazolam).

It's important to note, however, that benzodiazepines such as Xanax have a high potential for misuse and addiction. They are meant only for short-term use and a person should be under a doctor's supervision while taking Xanax.

Coping With Automatonophobia

There are ways you can practice on your own to cope with the day-to-day stress you experience due to a phobia. You can manage your anxiety with methods such as:

  • Deep breathing: Try taking a few diaphragmatic breaths the next time you feel panic coming on. Breathe in slowly through your nose, letting your belly expand with air. Hold the breath briefly, then exhale out of your mouth, slowly, and let your belly deflate.
  • Progressive muscle relaxation: This is a form of meditation in which you focus all of your attention on one part of your body at a time. Oftentimes, anxiety tightens parts of our bodies in ways we don't realize until we pay attention. Notice any discomfort or tight muscles, breathe into those areas of the body, and envision the discomfort leaving your body.
  • Visualization: Taking a few minutes to visualize yourself in a relaxing situation can go a long way in slowing your nervous system and reducing anxiety. For instance, try picturing yourself on a quiet, peaceful beach. Notice the sounds, smells, and sensations that accompany the image—the sound of the waves, the smell of the ocean, and the feeling of sand between your toes.

A Word From Verywell

Though automatonophobia can pose challenges to your everyday life and functioning, remember that you aren't alone. There are resources, like therapy and medication, as well as coping mechanisms you can use to help reduce your anxiety. Reach out to a doctor or mental health professional who can advise you on the next steps for treating your phobia.

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Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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Additional Reading
  • American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th ed.).

By Lisa Fritscher
Lisa Fritscher is a freelance writer and editor with a deep interest in phobias and other mental health topics.