Creepiness linked to men, clowns and bird watching, study finds

Creeps: We know them when we see them, but how do we know when we see them?

That’s what psychology professor Frank McAndrew set out to determine when he and fellow researchers at Knox College in Illinois began what they say is the first-ever formal study on what factors creep people out.

The study, “On the nature of creepiness,” was published last month in the journal New Ideas of Psychology.

The results keyed in on which hobbies, jobs and quirks people associate with creepiness, as well as a possible evolutionary function to creepy vibes.

Professions that topped the list as creepy shouldn’t come as a surprise. Clowns, funeral directors, taxidermists and sex-shop workers all ranked highly.

STORY: Creepy clowns in Dublin?

Hobbies most often perceived as creepy included collecting items like dolls or insects. Activities that involve watching, such as photography or bird watching, also creeped people out.

The study analyzed the responses of 1,341 people surveyed internationally.

“Creepiness may be related to the ‘agency-detection’ mechanisms proposed by evolutionary psychologists,” McAndrew wrote in Psychology Today. “These mechanisms evolved to protect us from harm at the hands of predators and enemies.”

So when the shifty guy hitting on you at the bar sends a shiver up your spine, thousands of years of evolution may be telling you to run.

In fact, the study found that 95% of people expect creeps to be men more often than women, and that women are more likely to sense a sexual threat from creeps.

Creeps don’t know they’re creepy, said the study’s participants, who also indicated that creepy people can’t become un-creepy.

But being creepy doesn’t necessarily mean a person intends harm, they said.

The study concluded that creepiness stems not from certain fear but rather from the ambiguity of what should frighten a person.

Unpredictability, the study found, is a key component to creepiness.

“This ambivalence may leave you frozen in place, wallowing in creepiness,” McAndrew said in Psychology Today.

“Yet this reaction could still be adaptive if it helps you maintain vigilance during such periods of uncertainty and manage the balance between self-preservation and social obligation.”

Learn more about the study at ResearchGate.

Josh Hafner, USA TODAY & 13WMAZ


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