We’ve all met or known someone “creepy”. It’s a description that we, as a society, tend to throw around without question. Most people instinctively seem to understand the word’s meaning… but what specific characteristics actually makes another human being “creepy”? Researchers at Knox College decided to figure it out.
In a recent study surveying 1,341 people Frank McAndrew, Ph.D., and Sarah Koehnke asked participants to rank a variety of physical and personality traits on a “creepiness” scale of 1 to 5 in order to determine what specific characteristics creep people out.
McAndrew summarized the teams findings in Psychology Today:
Our study confirmed the following:
- Perceived creepy people are more likely to be males than females.
- Females are more likely to perceive sexual threat from creepy people.
- Occupations do differ in level of perceived creepiness. Clowns, taxidermists, sex-shop owners, and funeral directors were at the top of the list.
- Unpredictability is an important component of perceived creepiness.
- A variety of non-normative physical characteristics and nonverbal behaviors contribute to perceptions of creepiness.
- Participants did not believe that most creepy people realize they are creepy, nor did they believe that creepy people necessarily have bad intentions. However, they also believed that creepy people could not change.
- The most frequently mentioned creepy hobbies involved collecting things, such as dolls, insects, or body parts such as teeth. Bones or fingernails were considered especially creepy; the second most frequently mentioned creepy hobby involved some variation of “watching,” such as taking pictures of people, watching children, pornography, and even bird watching.
The results are consistent with the idea that creepiness is a response to the ambiguity of threat. Non-normative non-verbal and emotional behaviors, unusual physical characteristics and hobbies, or suspect occupations set off our “creepiness detector.” Men are considered more likely to be creepy by males and females alike; women are more likely to perceive sexual threat from creepy people.
McAndrew plans to expand on the research and write a book.
Although the original study is now a few years old, the research has been gaining more attention thanks to stories on major news networks (see NBC news coverage in video below)
So… if you’re a bug-eyed, greasy-haired, lip-licking clown with pasty skin who collects weird objects and stands too close to women, well, as much as I hate to break it to you… you’re probably gonna stay single for a while.