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Blog Archive > 10-Apr-16
The Psychology of Creepiness
Have you met anybody that you found creepy? Yes, of course you have. And
you've probably seen plenty on TV and in the movies, where writers and producers
love to cast weird people who build the tension.
But what is it about people that makes them creepy? McAndrews and Koehnke
(2016) found a range of factors, including:
- Standing too close
- Greasy hair
- Peculiar smile
- Bulging eyes
- Having a mental illness
- Long fingers
- Unkempt hair
- Pale skin
- Bags under eyes
- Odd/dirty clothes
- Licking lips frequently
- Laughing at odd times
- Steering conversation toward one topic (especially sex)
- Making it impossible to leave without seeming rude
- Displaying unwanted sexual interest
- Asking to take a picture of you
- Being very thin
- Displaying too much/little emotion.
Oh yes, and being male. It's so much easier to be creepy if you're a man, and
particularly when you are talking with a women. Age difference probably doesn't
help, either. Women are well aware of the
potential predatory actions of some men and have a strong radar for signs of
danger, which they typically include in the general descriptor of 'creepy'.
Threats are experienced when it is difficult to predict what the person will do,
and creepiness often displays this through uncertainty and ambiguity in the way the
creepy person appears and behaves.
Just reading this may make you feel a bit creeped out as it reminds you of
creepy people you have met before. It's also a great checklist for movie-makers,
though I'm sure we could add a few more items as well. But how about reducing
the list? Can we identify some of the common underlying factors? Here's a list
of what we expect of others, and the creepy-list breaking of these expectation:
- Dirty / infectious: Greasy hair, Unkempt hair, Odd/dirty clothes,
Pale skin, Bags under eyes, Being very thin, Bulging eyes
- Self-focused (lacking empathy): Peculiar smile, Laughing at odd
times, Licking lips frequently, Steering conversation towards one topic,
Displaying unwanted sexual interest, Displaying too much/little emotion
- Not knowing social rules (and hence may break them): Peculiar
smile, Standing too close, Laughing at odd times, Displaying unwanted sexual
- Possible physical threat: Standing too close, Bulging eyes,
Bulging eyes, Long fingers, Licking lips frequently, Steering conversation
towards one topic, Asking to take a picture of you, Making it impossible to
leave without being rude.
This gives a clear steer if you want to avoid appearing creepy, which is
surprisingly easy to do, especially if you are a man taking with a woman (and
more so if you find her attractive).
- Be clean and tidy, especially when meeting people you don't know
- Be empathetic. Focus on them and
though not too much. Beware of sharing personal details that may make them
- Follow social rules. Know social
values. Be kind.
Reciprocate. Respect them.
- Be safe. Avoid threats in how you stand, how you move and what
you say. Avoid getting too close or sudden movement. Avoid emotional words,
including swearing. Be reliably predictable.
McAndrews, F.T. and Koehnke, S.S. (2016), On the Nature of
Creepiness, New Ideas in Psychology, 43, December 2016, 10?15