What Makes Someone Creepy? Science Explains

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You know how some people just give you the heebie jeebies and you're not sure why? Researchers at Knox College are now giving you a reason to trust your instincts.

You know -- when you're not sure if there's something to be afraid of or not, or what it is, but something is just not right. And you don't know how to respond. That makes it CREEPY.

Greasy hair. Long fingers. Avoiding eye contact. Asking if they can take your picture. You look up and someone is watching you eat. Someone following you. The shady mustache. Walking too close. Watching from a distance. Their eye contact is way off. Licking their lips. Laughing at all the wrong times. They keep steering the conversation toward uncomfortable topics. Bulging eyes. Pale skin. Bags under their eyes. Dressed funny. Shows a lot of emotion. Nods too much. Super tall. Smiles too much.

But why are those things creepy??

"But what exactly is it that our creepiness detector is warning us about? It cannot just be a clear warning of physical or social harm. A mugger who points a gun in your face and demands money is certainly threatening and terrifying. Yet, most people would probably not use the word creepyto describe this situation." - On the Nature of Creepiness

Science says it's because you don't know what their deal is and therefore, you don't know how to react. You just know you want to get the heck away from them.

Professor Frank McAndrew and psychology student Sara Koehnke looked at the qualities and behaviors that make someone creepy. Using an online survey, the team asked more than 1,300 people about their lifestyle choices and physical characteristics -- specifically, signals that might creep out other people. McAndrew talked to WQAD about the study.

"Really, what creepiness is all about is you're not sure if there's something to be afraid of or not," said McAndrew. "If you're talking to a person who isn't playing by the rules -- they're standing a little bit too close to you, their eye contact is way off, they're licking their lips, or they're laughing at all the wrong times, and they keep steering the conversation toward uncomfortable topics."

The survey asked participants to rate the creepiness of specific occupations. Top of the creepy list were clowns, taxidermists, sex shop owners, and funeral directors. No offense to anyone, but no real surprises there, amirite??

But, unemployed people rank fairly high on the creepy list too, along with clergy, janitors, garbage collectors, guards, writers (WHAT?!?!), and actors. Meteorologists were at the bottom of the list, but they were on it. :)

Then hobbies -- which of those are creepy? The ones that involve collecting things like dolls, reptiles, insects, and body parts.

Body parts? We were creeped out enough with those first three hobbies. Who even (legally) collects body parts??

People also consider bird watchers and photography enthusiasts a little creepy -- must be the voyeurism thing.

And guess what? The study found that men are more likely to be considered creepy than are women, probably, McAndrew says, because "men are just more threatening than women, right?"

Well, most of the time that may be true, but now always.


glenn close

McAndrew has made several television appearances talking about the subject of what makes someone creepy and says he never expected this much attention. "It really obviously is something everybody's interested in. Australia, India, Japan... I mean, everywhere it's in the press. It's just amazing," he said.

With this study done -- you can find the whole thing here -- what's next? McAndrew says he'd like to study what makes women creepy as well as finding out if creepy people know they're creepy.