It might be harder and harder to creep on the down low anymore, as a new scientific study seems to have pinpointed some key characteristics that people resolutely agree constitutes as creepy behavior. Just in time for Halloween, Knox College social psychologist Francis McAndrew set out to study the nature of creepiness by surveying more than 1,300 people aged 18 to 77. He concluded that getting the creeps is a “universal human response” that arises as a defense mechanism against ambiguous violent, sexual or uncertain threats we perceive from others. The study is still under review, but one thing is for certain: we know what creeps us out, and that seems to be a commonly held, shared experience for most.
The participants of McAndrew’s study were given a survey listing hypothetical situations and scenarios of a friend encountering a creepy person. They were asked to rank the likelihood of this imaginary creeper having certain behavioral and physical traits on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being “very unlikely” and 5 being “very likely.” These traits included everything from prolonged touching and gazing, to asking for a picture of said friend, to more obscure things like if they talked a lot about clothing or were a child (that one I totally get).
Surprise, surprise: the responses were fairly consistent among what sent chills up the spines of participants. Among the behavioral characteristics that measured in as off the charts creepy: watching someone from a distance, steering the conversation toward sex and frequently touching someone. Physical traits that people need to keep their eye out for, lest they be perceived as creepy themselves, include greasy hair, showing no emotional reaction and being tall and thin. Take that, supermodels! And for the record, if there’s a Y chromosome in a person’s genetic make up, they’re way more likely to be considered a creep – 95% of participants agreed a man is more likely to be creepy than a woman.
“While they may not be overtly threatening, individuals who display unusual nonverbal behaviors, odd emotional behavior, or highly distinctive physical characteristics are outside of the norm, and by definition unpredictable,” McAndrew posited. “This activates our ‘creepiness detector’ and increases our vigilance as we try to discern if there is in fact something to fear or not from the person in question.
McAndrew’s study also looked at professional occupation as a sign of creepiness as well. Clowns, funeral directors, taxidermists and sex shop owners all ranked highest in terms of creepy ass jobs, supporting McAndrew’s original hypothesis that we perceive creepiness when threatened with unknowns like death, violence and sex. There’s still more to the science behind creepiness that needs to be explored. While McAndrew’s initial study certainly revealed patterns of thinking about what qualifies as being creepy, as well as some delineation between how men and women view creepiness, there was no information on how different cultural, ethnic or racial viewpoints could factor into the perception of creepiness. One thing’s for sure – don’t get caught with greasy hair watching someone from afar, because that’s Creepy 101.