A fear of dolls does have a proper name, pediophobia, classified under the broader fear of humanoid figures (automatonophobia) and related to pupaphobia, a fear of puppets. But most of the people made uncomfortable by the doll room at Pollock’s Toy Museum probably don’t suffer from pediophobia so much as an easy-to-laugh-off, often culturally reinforced, unease. “I think people just dismiss them, ‘Oh, I’m scared of dolls’, almost humorously – ‘I can’t look at those, I hate them,’ laughingly, jokingly. Most people come down laughing and saying, ‘I hated that last room, that was terrible,’” Hoyt says. Dolls – and it must be said, not all dolls – don’t really frighten people so much as they “creep” them out. And that is a different emotional state all together.
Dolls have been a part of human play for thousands of years – in 2004, a 4,000-year-old stone doll was unearthed in an archeological dig on the Mediterranean island of Pantelleria; the British Museum has several examples of ancient Egyptian rag dolls. Over millennia, toy dolls crossed continents and social strata, were made from sticks and rags, porcelain and vinyl, and have been found in the hands of children everywhere. It’s easy for a society to project whatever it wanted on to them: Just as much as they could be made out of anything, they could be made into anything. So dolls, without meaning to, mean a lot. But one of the more relatively recent ways we relate to dolls is as strange objects of – and this is a totally scientific term – creepiness.
Research into why we think things are creepy and what potential use that might have is somewhat limited, but it does exist (“creepy”, in the modern sense of the word, has been around since the middle of the 19th century; its first appearance in The New York Times was in an 1877 reference to a story about a ghost). In 2013, Frank McAndrew, a psychologist at Knox College in Illinois, and Sara Koehnke, a graduate student, put out a small paper on their working hypothesis about what “creepiness” means; the paper was based on the results of a survey of more than 1,300 people investigating what “creeped” them out (collecting dolls was named as one of the creepiest hobbies). Continue reading from Smithsonian Magazine