Automatonophobia is the fear of lifelike robots, or animatronics. Sometimes this fear can extend to things like wax figures or any other figures meant to portray people. This can affect a person's ability to be in and enjoy museums, amusement parks, theme parks, carnivals, haunted houses, and much more.
Many people may feel uncomfortable around humanlike robots or objects—this is a phenomenon called the "uncanny valley." But if the fear causes enough distress to disrupt your life, it is a phobia.
A phobia of animatronics is what’s known as a specific phobia. This is an intense and irrational fear of something that is not at all dangerous. A person with a specific phobia will make great efforts to avoid the trigger of the fear, even if they realize the fear is disproportionate to the actual harm.
Approximately 12.5% of adults in the United States experience specific phobia at some point in their lives. Approximately 19 million Americans have one or more phobias.
This article will discuss the fear of animatronics, its symptoms, treatment, and how to cope.
With specific phobia, the person is extremely afraid of an object or situation that is not usually dangerous or harmful. They are aware that their fear has no factual or logical basis, but they cannot ignore or overcome it.
Other symptoms can include:
- The object almost always causes intense and immediate fear and anxiety.
- A person purposely and actively avoids the object.
- The phobia disrupts daily life.
If a person has a fear of animatronics, they may be afraid of talking dolls, humanlike robots, any mechanical figure that talks, or even any figure resembling a human. Each person may have different elements of their fear. They may avoid places like the toy aisle at stores, theme parks, or museums.
In order to diagnose specific phobia, certain criteria published in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), the guidebook of the American Psychiatric Association (APA), must be met. The clinical diagnostic criteria for specific phobia involve:
- The persistent fear that is unreasonable or excessive even occurs in anticipation of an event.
- Exposure to the feared situation causes an immediate anxiety response like a panic attack.
- The person knows the fear is excessive.
- Situations causing the fear are avoided or handled with significant distress or anxiety.
- Avoiding triggering situations significantly interferes with one’s routine, work, social situations, or life.
- The fear lasts at least six months.
- The fear cannot be explained by another mental health disorder.
Even if the criteria for a specific phobia are not met, these fears are very real to the person experiencing them. A mental health professional can help you manage and treat the fear.
What causes phobias is not known. It is thought that personality traits, genetics, a history of trauma, and past experiences can all contribute to the development of a specific phobia. For instance, a person might have had a traumatic experience with an animatronic at a theme park when they were young, and this slowly developed into a phobia. Others might have even grown up watching others in their family have the fear, and learned to associate the object with fear and anxiety.
People who have specific phobias often have comorbid (coexisting) mental health conditions, specifically anxiety and mood disorders.
While your fear may feel overwhelming and insurmountable, there is treatment available. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and exposure therapy are effective for treating specific phobia. These two therapies may be combined.
In CBT, a person works with a mental health therapist to identify and address thought patterns and learned behavior that are contributing to their distress. Coping skills can also be evaluated and practiced, for use in various situations.
Exposure therapy is another therapy commonly used for anxiety and phobias. In this kind of therapy, the person is gradually and consistently exposed to their feared object or stimulus until the fear begins to lessen. Stress reduction techniques and breathing exercises may also be used.
Other therapy types that may be used to treat a specific phobia include eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR, using repetitive eye movements to process traumatic thoughts, memories, or feelings), psychoeducation (learning about and getting support for the condition to better cope with it), and relaxation techniques.
A mental health professional can help you develop coping skills to manage the anticipation of a trigger and any stress or anxiety associated with the fear. Even if your fear is not a clinically diagnosed phobia, it can still cause you a lot of stress. Learning how to manage your stress can help you in your daily life.
Coping can include the following:
- Practice deep breathing and relaxation techniques. These can help you manage anxiety when triggered or anxious.
- Minimize or avoid the use of caffeine and alcohol to help reduce anxiety. These can alter mood and speed up heart rate, both of which are not good for anxiety.
- Stay connected to others for social support.
- See a counselor who specializes in anxiety/phobias.
Fear of animatronics may seem like something small, but depending on the specifics of your fear, it can interfere with your life in significant ways. Dolls, robots, museum displays, or theme parks may cause distress and marked impairment in day-to-day life.
Treatments like CBT and exposure therapy can be very effective in helping to treat phobias, and it is possible to successfully manage the fears.
A Word From Verywell
If you’re not sure where to start in seeking help for your fear, talk with your primary care provider. Let them know your symptoms and what’s going on. They will be able to refer you to local mental health professionals.
A fear or phobia is nothing to be embarrassed about—these are clinical disorders that impact your life. You deserve to lead a full life that’s not impaired by your fear.