Why Do We Find Certain People Creepy?

We’ve all been there. Someone, for one reason or another, just gives us the creeps. It could be an unusual physical attribute or a weird personality or mannerism, or a disonance between spoken words and body language. Whatever it is, we’re putting this person in our creepy list and getting as far away as possible.

Why do some people creep us out? Science explains. 

Why We Feel Creeped Out

Explanations about creepiness run along the same line. It goes something like this: creepy things (or people or places, etc.) are vague, i.e. we don’t know if they’re safe or harmful.

Michael Stevens’ explanation in the video above in his YouTube channel Vsauce goes along roughly the same argument. So do the explanations of the following scientists.

Sociologist Lisa Wade writes in her blog, Sociological Images, that being creeped out is “a signal that something might be dangerous.”

“Things we know are dangerous scare us (no creepiness there), but if we’re unsure if we’re under threat, that’s when things get creepy.”

Wade’s post was based on a study conducted by social psychologist Francis McAndrew and his student Sara Koehnke. According to McAndrew, feeling the creeps is a “universal human response” to ambiguous threats, usually of a violent or sexual nature. Ambiguous threats refer to “anything that would make you unsure of what the person would do next.”

What Makes Creepy People Creepy

McAndrew and Koehnke’s study, currently in review, found that there are several characteristics common among “creepy people.”  Watching someone before interacting with them, touching someone frequently, and steering the conversation toward sex are the top-three behaviors most likely held by a creepy person. The study also found that males were more likely to be perceived as creeps than females.

In a separate study conducted by Pontus Leander and colleagues, creepy people might also leave you feeling cold. The researchers think this could be because social and physical cues are interpreted by the brain at the same time, so people unconsciously associate icy stares, for example, with actual physical coldness.

Back to McAndrew’s study: it was also determined that occupations involving “threatening stimuli,” like sex and death, are perceived to be more creepy. So people working as clowns, taxidermists, sex shop owners, and funeral directors were perceived to be in occupations most likely to be held by creeps.

So while creepy people may not be overtly threatening, they are unpredictable. The study thus concludes that “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.”


What kind of people creep you out?



Juvy Garcia
Juvy Garcia
Juvy is a freelance proofreader, copy editor and writer. A nice little nook with a good book would be ideal. But concocting plans for her next drawing or DIY project will suffice while she's still busy babysitting two daughters. Follow her on Twitter or connect with her on Google+.