So, are you creepy? How would you know? While it’s easy to dismiss someone else as being creepy, it’s hard to pinpoint which of our own characteristics might weird someone else out. In an article for website TED.com, psychologist Julia Shaw references a Knox College, Illinois study that posited that feeling of unease is actually your body’s threat detector, responding to unconscious signals that something isn’t quite right.
The research found that men were far more likely to be considered creepy than women. And they found certain attributes that people judged as being particularly unsettling. Top of the list was someone who doesn’t respect personal space, and stands in unnecessarily close proximity. Next up was unwashed hair, closely followed by an unusual smile or eyes that bulged. Unusually long digits, messy hairstyles, a gaunt appearance and preternaturally pale skin were also cited as causing discomfort.
There are even jobs which are thought to be creepier than others. In ascending order, the top four unnerving jobs were funeral director, sex-shop owner, taxidermist and at the top of the list, clown. So, a lot of these characteristics are either physical, or relate to how a person conducts their social interactions. The study suggested that the reason we find someone displaying these traits or behaviors creepy seems to fall into three categories.
One, they might make us scared or worried. Two, we tend to ascribe creepiness as a personality trait, rather than just writing off unusual actions as someone exhibiting behavior different to the norm. And three, we have a tendency to suspect there might be a sexual motive to deviant behavior. But, as you might have guessed, our assessment of whether someone or not is actually likely to do us harm is frequently off the mark.
Shaw refers to a study where less than half the participants were able to correctly identify criminals from America’s Most Wanted List as untrustworthy. Furthermore, a barrage of extensive research has found that good-looking people are generally thought to be more trustworthy than unattractive people. Of course, this so-called “halo effect” is acutely unfair. The moral seems to be don’t judge others, and hopefully they won’t judge you.