What Makes Someone Creepy?
We judge people within the first few seconds of seeing them.
While this might seem superficial, it’s an evolutionary technique that’s served us well when survival was key. Today, the dangers from the environment are less of an issue, but the survival trait remains.
Sometimes when we do this unconscious measurement if a particular person is friend or foe, you get the sense that someone is just…..creepy.
You wouldn’t exactly be able to describe the sensation, or why a particular person is creepy, but you just get a feeling of unease. Is it their behavior? Their looks? What they say?
Until now, the psychology phenomenon hasn’t been addressed directly. However, researchers tackled the question recently and asked what it is and why we sometimes get that feeling of creepiness when around certain people.
Their investigation into the creepiness phenomenon – published in the journal New Ideas in Psychology – revealed the characteristics of people, jobs, hobbies, and behaviors that raise the hair on the back of our necks.
The Nature of Creepiness
One of the first people to lay the groundwork for what we might call “creepy” is none other than famous psychologist Sigmund Freud.
Freud had this idea of what causes that “uncanny” feeling we sometimes get. He believed it came from the familiarity of a person or object that we’re comfortable with, but which also had strange and unfamiliar features at the same time.
This familiar, yet oddly unfamiliar, state would cause a cognitive dissonance – or mental disturbance or stress – that would ultimately cause a feeling of reject or repulsiveness.
His definition of “uncanny” shares a lot of similarities for what we might call “creepy”. But what are the underlying psychological factors that make people pop up on our creep radar? This was one of the key questions from the research, and they found that there are a couple of different but related factors.
It’s the fact that creepy people make us nervous. And that anxiety is fueled, at least in party, by uncertainty. Basically, we’re not sure if they mean us harm.
Here’s what the researchers had to say:
“It is our belief that creepiness is anxiety aroused by the ambiguity of whether there is something to fear or not and/or by the ambiguity of the precise nature of the threat (e.g. sexual, physical violence, contamination, etc) that might be present.”
In the end, the researchers summed up their findings with this:
“While they may not be overtly threatening, individuals who display unusual patterns of nonverbal behavior, odd emotional responses, or highly distinctive physical characteristics are outside of the norm, and by definition unpredictable.
This may activate our “creepiness detector” and increase our vigilance as we try to discern if there is in fact something to fear or not from the person in question.”
The Creep Factor
So what are the specific things that creep us out? The researchers found that creepiness can be caused from both behaviors and appearance.
They were asked to rate how creepy certain behaviors can be more creepy than others. The respondents rated 44 different types of behaviors or appearance and rate how creepy they were.
If you find yourself having these characteristics or behaviors – especially with strangers – you’ll most likely be increasing your creep factor. Here’s the list of the top 7 that came out on top.
1. Staring at someone before interacting with them
2. Frequent touching
3. Steering the conversation towards sex
4. Asking to take a picture
5. Asking for personal details of family
6. Was a member of the opposite sex (stronger for females than males)
7. Greasy Hair
Which Jobs Are Creepy?
Researchers also asked respondents to assess the creepy level of over 21 different jobs. Here’s the top 10 list of the jobs that people felt were the most creepy.
3. Sex Shop Owner
4. Funeral Director
5. Taxi Driver
9. Garbage Collector
The top four in this category were noted by the researcher as the most creepy. The clown seems to be taking a hit in the PR department in recent years, most likely due to the fact of how they get portrayed in shows and movies.
Which Hobbies Are Creepy?
Researchers also let people freely respond to what they were believed to be some of the creepiest hobbies that people might have.
When they tallied the results of the open-ended question, they found two types of hobbies came out ahead.
1.Collecting things – such as dolls, insects, reptiles, and the especially creepy body parts (which included things like bones, teeth, and fingernails).
2.Hobbies that included some type of watching or observation. This included watching, following, taking pictures of people, and even bird watching was considered kind of creepy.
Other popular responses included fascinations with pornography, exotic sexual activity, and taxidermy.
Are You Creepy?
The research shows us that we don’t necessarily assume that creepy people mean us harm, or that these characteristics are directly tied to danger. But because we’re uncertain about their motives, and seem peculiar, it causes us to worry and puts us on guard.
Gender was also shown to play a significant role. Males have more to worry about when it comes to being perceived as being creepy than females.
Around 95% of the people in the study believed that a creepy person was more likely to be a man. This can be attributed to the fact that men are generally seen to be more threatening, especially sexually.
Another interesting fact revealed that people believed that we believe that people who we think are creepy probably don’t realize that they’re creepy.
So even if you don’t think you’re being a creeper – especially if you’re guy – doesn’t mean that the people around you don’t see you that way.