What is Pediophobia? (An Overview)
In this blog we will discuss the symptoms, causes and treatment of Pediophobia.
Pediophobia is the irrational fear of dolls. It is a type of ‘automatono’ phobia, which comes under the category of anxiety disorders in the DSM-V.
Someone suffering from this type of phobia will experience high levels of anxiety when they see dolls.
Dolls are toys or objects with which a child, usually girls play with. Their humanoid figure is what can lead to a child becoming fearful of them.
People suffering from Pediophobia are afraid of all types of dolls in general.
However, dolls which are perceived to be more fearful are usually Chinese dolls or walking/talking dolls.
Dolls are very harmless objects, used for the purpose of playing or engaging children in some kind of activity.
But, films like Child’s play have portrayed them as evil objects.
In the film, a doll named Chucky was shown to be possessed, murdering people. Though this is not true.
But because children are unable to interpret the difference between reality and imagination, they develop Pediophobia.
They believe them to be ‘real’ and potentially harmful to them.
Someone suffering from Pediophobia will not only be extremely anxious and terrified at the sight of dolls, but just the thought of them can instigate full-blown panic attacks as the anxiety worsens.
This phobia mostly develops during childhood and fades when one grows. Though, this depends on the severity of their phobia.
One might even carry their fear of dolls in to adulthood which worsens their anxiety and makes life difficult.
A sufferer will take all the efforts they can in order to avoid any contact with dolls. In Pediophobia, a child will start crying or screaming as soon as they see a doll.
They will avoid going in to a room where they are present, for example their own toy room or a toy shop.
A girl won’t be able to play with her friends because they might be playing with dolls.
In school, sufferers of Pediophobia will avoid taking part in activities which involve dolls.
These repeated acts of avoidance, which produce pleasant feelings in the sufferer will help in maintaining their fear as it assures the child that dolls are to be afraid of because, their presence causes anxiety and their absence doesn’t.
This is why someone suffering from Pediophobia can also develop Obsessive-compulsive Disorder.
As the DSM-V suggests, this evading behavior of the sufferer is fueled by their anxiety, which affects one’s social and occupational functioning.
This is because girls are unable to play with their friends, the don’t participate in school functions like other kids, they cannot visit toy stores and choose their own toys.
Pediophobia, if carried in to adulthood can also result in one developing Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD).
Pediophobia is referred to as the irrational, abnormal fear of dolls. It is a type of specific phobia.
The word Pediophobia originated from the Greek word ‘paidion’ meaning little child and ‘phobos’ meaning fear.
Symptoms of Pediophobia
Like in the case of all other specific phobias, Pediophobia too has anxiety as its focal symptom.
Individuals suffering from an irrational fear of dolls suffer from extreme anxiety which, as mentioned earlier, can result in one having panic attacks.
When one undergoes extreme anxiety, the body experiences other physiological symptoms as well.
Such as increased heartrate or palpitations.
When the sufferer thinks he is around dolls, he goes into flight or fight mode because of an adrenaline rush.
In this state, the body’s physiological responses help one make decisions when in fear causing situations.
They either decide to escape the situation (flight)-faint or suffer from panic attacks or stay and combat their fear (fight)-by taking counterproductive actions.
Pediophobia, being the fear of dolls is experienced by individuals in different ways.
One might be scared of all dolls whereas others will be afraid of specific ones.
One might have more severe symptoms than the other, based on their past experiences and intensity of the phobia.
Though, as the DSM-5 suggest, one must experience anxiety lasting for at least 6-months.
Symptoms one experiences in Pediophobia are:
- Excessive anxiety when exposed to dolls
- Excessive anxiety when thinking about dolls
- Inability to manage anxiety
- Full-blown panic attacks
- Avoiding places or situations where one might encounter a doll
- Increased heartbeat
- Muscle tension
- Feelings of dizziness/fainting
- Fear of an impending doom
- Excessive sweating
- Hot/cold flushes
- Butterflies in the stomach
- Drying up of the mouth
- Crying/screaming (in children)
For one to be diagnosed with Pediophobia, a person should experience at least 3-5 of these symptoms (including anxiety).
Causes of Pediophobia
Pediophobia, like all other specific phobias has no known cause.
These types of phobias can be a result of a number of factors such as biological (genetics) and or environmental (past experiences or social learning).
Genetics refers to the genes and neurotransmitters in our body.
Someone with a family history of a phobia/mental disorder has a higher chance of having the same or different disorder in the future.
This is because the genes of the parents are transferred to their children, thus any alteration in the genes of ones’ parents is inherited by the child.
This genetic tendency to develop a mental disorder/specific phobia can also be referred to as a Diathesis-stress relationship.
According to this, one with a genetic predisposition will not develop symptoms of Pediophobia until and unless there is some trigger event, instigating anxiety or fear of dolls.
Movies have been the main source for the development of Pediophobia.
The ways dolls are portrayed in horror films plays a substantial role in a child developing fear of dolls.
One such film, made in the 1980’s was The Child’s play. This was an American horror film which had a murderous doll named Chucky.
The film and this doll became so famous that many children or even adults developed Pediophobia as a result of the film’s plot.
The impact of the doll’s role in it was imprinted on the minds of many.
If someone has seen this film, they are very likely to develop this phobia because of the way the film shows a possessed doll being a potential threat to humans, especially children.
Another famous horror film named Anabelle can be a source of Pediophobia.
It too, showcased a doll named Anabelle, possessed by some supernatural beings, killing or harming the residents of the house she was in.
This film also gained a lot of popularity and can be seen as one of the causes of Pediophobia.
Because dolls are otherwise inanimate and harmless objects, films that are based on them mostly showcase them as a threat to ones’ safety by displaying them as possessed.
More than a dozen films have been made on ‘evil’ dolls.
Children who see or hear such things believe them to be real incidents because of the special effects films have and the inability of a child to differentiate between a film and real life.
Other than this, one can also develop Pediophobia if, for example their elder siblings or family members tell them stories of how dolls can walk/talk at night.
Because children are naive, these false stories are perceived real by them and induces fear and anxiety.
Someone suffering from Ommetaphobia (fear of eyes) can also develop Pediophobia because the eyes of dolls, which are different in every doll can be intimidating to one.
Eyes of some dolls are made of buttons which seem life less, some seem very real.
Therefore, someone with a fear of eyes will generalize their fear to the whole doll.
Thus, Pediophobia has no real cause as to why one develops it.
Some suffer from it due to genetics, while others are terrified of dolls due to the experiences they’ve had.
Treatment of Pediophobia
Pediophobia, like all other specific phobias has no exclusive type of treatment that is specifically designed to treat it.
Like all the other specific phobias, Pediophobia is treated by a number of different therapies including, Exposure Therapy, Cognitive-behavioral Therapy (CBT) and or medications that lower downs the anxiety or other physical symptoms.
• Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
It is one of the most frequently used treatment for patients with almost all kinds of mental disorders.
Pediophobia is defined as the irrational fear of dolls.
Thus, the therapist helps the patient in replacing these irrational thoughts with more rational ones.
The patients are helped out in analyzing and justifying the way they feel about getting exposed to dolls.
Therapists assist them in uncovering the reasons behind their fear and later they provide them with alternate, pleasant thoughts.
The patient is told to maintain a thought diary (with ABCD column) which provides them a replacement for every irrational thought they have, when thinking about a particular situation.
The ABCD stands for:
i. A (antecedents) a situation or triggering event.
ii. B (belief) the thought that comes to one’s mind when in that triggering situation.
iii. C (consequences) the symptoms/feelings caused by that event/thought
iv. D (dispute) alternate, rational thoughts provided by the therapist in an attempt to dispute/challenge those irrational beliefs.
This last section of the thought diary is what really plays a role in helping the person feel good/less anxious.
• Exposure Therapy
It is one of the most frequently used ways of treating patients with Pediophobia (or any other kind of specific phobia).
In this therapy, the patient is exposed to the source of his fear over a certain span of time.
To begin with the therapy, the therapist exposes the patient to the least triggering stimuli, a picture of a doll, for example.
As the therapy progresses and the patient is able to control his anxious feelings, imagery can be used to take the treatment a step further.
In this part of the treatment the patient is asked to visualize/imagine a situation in which he is playing with a doll.
During this process of imagery, one actually feels being in that particular situation or place, experiencing various senses.
Once the person successfully, without feeling anxious clears this step of the therapy, he is then exposed to a real doll.
While the patient is being exposed to different intensities of stimuli during the various stages of therapy, the therapist simultaneously teaches them coping exercises.
These include, breathing techniques or muscle relaxation methods to lower their anxiety, when in an actual fear/anxiety causing situation.
This teaches them how to remain calm when exposed to the fear stimuli.
Before actually starting the exposure therapy, the therapist needs to figure out the intensity of the patients fear, as to deduce whether they will be able to undergo this treatment, without any physical or psychological harm caused to them during the exposure processes.
However, these steps desensitize one to their fear of dolls, by exposing them to that stimuli repeatedly, until they learn to undergo the situation without anxiety/panic attacks.
• Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR)
MBSR is a meditation therapy, is used to manage stress or anxiety. It is an 8-week program which includes group sessions.
Mindfulness meditation and Hatha yoga are practiced in these sessions.
Lectures and group discussions are also done to talk about mental health and increase interactivity.
In mindfulness meditation the person is told to, for example focus on the sensations felt while breathing or the rhythm of the chest rising and falling during the process.
This distracts the person’s attention from something stressful to something which is neutral and soothing.
For quick and effective treatment, patients are also given a set of home works, for example 45 minutes of yoga and meditation sessions for 6 days a week and to record their results/feelings in a book or diary for 15 minutes a day.
• Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)
This is another effective therapy used to treat Pediophobia.
It is more commonly used with people suffering from personality disorders, but is also useful with patients suffering from this type of specific phobias.
Coping skills are taught in the DBT group which lasts for about 6-months and can have a number of people (depending on how many join the group).
i. Half-smiling is the first module of DBT. It is a technique that is used with patients who are distressed because of their irrational thoughts.
The technique is known as ‘Half-smiling’ because the person is first advised to think about the stimuli that fears or upsets them, and while doing so they are told to lift the corners of their mouths by subtly smiling.
Smiling is not that will help one get rid of these unpleasant thoughts, it is the person’s ability to constrain itself from thinking about those thoughts while half smiling.
ii. Mindfulness, the second module, is another technique used in DBT groups which helps the individual in getting rid of those negative thoughts.
Individuals are told to focus on the present and be attentive to what is going on around them at the moment.
This helps in breaking the link between their mind and any negative thought that might come to them then.
For example, a person is told to focus on his breath or on the smell of a certain food presented to them, making use of their olfactory sense.
iii. The third technique or module of the DBT is distress tolerance skills. This module teaches people to calm themselves down in healthy ways when they are distressed or emotionally overwhelmed.
Individuals are allowed to make wise, rational decisions and take immediate action, rather than being captured by emotionally destructive thoughts that might make the situation worse.
Reality acceptance skills are also learnt under this model so that people fully accept reality and later make plans on how to address the problem.
They are not just one of the many treatment therapies used for Pediophobia, instead they are one of the most common ways of relaxation used by many people.
Yoga tends to stimulate the meditative state of one’s mind while the person is in a particular yoga posture.
Through yoga/meditation the mind is diverted towards something more productive and calm, allowing the person to escape the negative, distress causing thoughts.
Out of a number of yoga types, one can benefit from any yoga type/pose they like. Hatha yoga is one of the different types of yoga.
The breathing techniques or the imagery one creates while in a yoga posture are the real factors that makes the person feel less anxious and diverts their mind, away from the thoughts about dolls.
• Drug Therapy
Drugs are used to reduce the physical symptoms caused by Pediophobia.
Drugs are very quick in effectiveness, as they start showing progress in the patients’ health at least 2 weeks after the medicine is taken.
This type of biological treatment is usually more effective if the cause of the phobia is only genetic.
However, these drugs/medicines are not to be taken without a doctor’s prescription or consultation.
Two types of drugs are used in the treatment of this phobia:
i. Anti-anxiety Drugs
Medicines like Klonopin are anti-anxiety drugs.
They are most commonly used with patients who experience panic attacks and also lowers their anxiety by binding to receptor cells of the brain that cause these unpleasant symptoms.
ii. Antidepressant Drugs
These drugs, as the name suggest don’t only treat depression but are also very effective in treating phobias.
Medicines like Paxil reduce the anxious feelings of a person and makes him feel calm.
They need to be taken on a daily basis but not without a doctor’s advice.
Whether the cause of Pediophobia, or any other type of specific phobia is genetics, environmental or both, the best and the most effective way of treating them is by using a combination of both biological treatments (drugs) with cognitive treatment (for example CBT/exposure therapy).
Side Note: I have tried and tested various products and services to help with my anxiety and depression. See my top recommendations here, as well as a full list of all products and services our team has tested for various mental health conditions and general wellness.
Titles to read
- PEDIOPHOBIA: The Fear of Dolls and Children
by Marie GALLICHER and Steve ELLERY
- The Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills Workbook: Practical DBT Exercises for Learning Mindfulness, Interpersonal Effectiveness, Emotion Regulation, and … (A New Harbinger Self-Help Workbook)
by Matthew McKay, Jeffrey C. Wood, et al.
- DBT Made Simple: A Step-by-Step Guide to Dialectical Behavior Therapy (The New Harbinger Made Simple Series)
by Sheri Van Dijk
- Anxiety, Phobias, and Panic
by Reneau Peurifoy
What we recommend for Phobias
- If you are suffering from Phobias then ongoing professional counselling could be your ideal first point of call. Counselling will utilize theories such as Cognitive behavioural therapy which will help you address the fears you are facing.
Weighted Blankets may help you sleep better if your phobias are affecting your quality of sleep. Weighted blankets apply enough weight on you that they make you feel much more relaxed and calm at night.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q1) How common is Pediophobia?
Pediophobia is the irrational fear of dolls. It is a type of specific phobia and not very common.
However, 9% of the population of the United States is affected by some type of specific phobia.
Q2) What is the fear of dolls?
Pediophobia is the irrational fear of dolls. It is a part of the automatonophobia type.
Q3) Do I have Pediophobia?
For someone to be diagnosed with Pediophobia, one must experience 6-months of anxiety.
One suffers from extreme anxiety with panic attacks, accompanied by other physiological symptoms.
Q4) How is Pediophobia cured?
It is treated by a number of psychotherapies and medicinal drugs.
The therapies used in the effective treatment of Pediophobia include, CBT, exposure therapy, mindfulness etc.