Social Question

DigitalBlue's avatar

What is it about some people that just gives us the creeps?

Asked by DigitalBlue (7072points) January 29th, 2013

A long time friend recently opened a business, and of course I promised to come by and check it out, visit and whatnot. Then I came to learn that his business partner is a guy that I knew a long time ago that scares the daylights out of me. He’s never done anything to me, he’s never been aggressive or violent, but although I haven’t actually seen him in probably 15 years I got a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach at the thought of being in the same room as him.

What is it about people like that, who may not actually do anything, that our gut picks up on? I tend to trust my instincts when it comes to this sort of thing, but why is it that some people set off internal alarms without doing much of anything at all?

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20 Answers

augustlan's avatar

I have no idea what causes it, but I’ve definitely experienced the phenomena. It’s like your body just knows something that your mind doesn’t. Sometimes, the person has the same effect on other people, but often not. Other people will be baffled by your feeling that the person is creepy, and you can’t even explain why you feel that way. So frustrating! I trust those instincts, too.

DigitalBlue's avatar

@augustlan yeah, luckily I feel justified, because I do know at least a few other people (women) who tend to agree with me on this one. I can’t really pinpoint what it is, just enough to make me shudder.

Pachy's avatar

I know that feeling, too. Suspect it’s an innate response to danger dating back to the earliest days when one caveman didn’t like the way an animal was looking at him and licking its chops… ditto the guy in the next cave.

syz's avatar

The last guy I felt that way about (my previous boss’s boyfriend) I later found out had shot his previous girlfriends new boyfriend 5 times and had just gotten out of prison. He used to spend the evenings hanging out in the office of the veterinary hospital with his gun. I don’t work there any more.

DigitalBlue's avatar

@syz that is terrifying!!

Brian1946's avatar


…but I’ve definitely experienced the phenomena.

Did you experience it when you were in the presence of that serial killer?

HolographicUniverse's avatar

Actually it’s an evolutionary function, animals possess the same instinctual alarms in the midst of danger or threats.
From a psychological standpoint it can be a subconscious response to an unknown stimuli, for instance he has a quality that you subconsciously find scary (even though it could be purely subjective) Some people have certain eccentricities and traits that people in general find creepy,it’s not because they are creepy but because their characteristics are different. Instincts are often misleading because they are so subjective and unique to an individual.
For instance something about Alfred Hitchcock one may find disturbing but you would never have these “feelings” about Ted Bundy

Judi's avatar

I had this feeling with my brother in law. My sister was 15 years older than me so I was a child when they got married. I never liked him and everyone knew it. (I was known for being pretty outspoken.)
Turns out he was a child molester. He abused my older sister and my little brother but didn’t dare touch me. He knew I would have had his ass in jail at the first opportunity even though I was only 5. My brother and sister kept the secret and the bastard still hasn’t paid for it and my sister (his wife) has forgiven him.

marinelife's avatar

Good instincts.

WillWorkForChocolate's avatar

I guess we just instinctively pick up on their bad vibes or something. My oldest daughter alerted me that there was a problem with a furniture salesman, and she was only one or so when it happened. She started shaking violently every time he got closer to us, and kept turning her head into my shoulder to avoid looking at him. It freaked me out and I got the hell out of there.

Shippy's avatar

I can’t explain it, but trust your gut.

burntbonez's avatar

Trust your gut. If you’re right, you’ll be glad you did. If you’re wrong, there won’t be any negative consequences that you’ll notice. Maybe a lost opportunity, but those are hard to quantify.

I believe what @HolographicUniverse said, that it’s a function developed evolutionarily. There are many different parts of our minds and some parts are attuned to signals the conscious mind doesn’t see. When these subconscious parts of our minds pick up on these signals, they try to signal the rest of the mind by creating these feelings of anxiety. That’s because the rest of the mind doesn’t have language to communicate with.

The problem is that we can’t test to see how accurate these perceptions are. We may get these “feelings” many times, but we’ll only confirm them some of the time. Only in some cases do we find out the person really is a child molester or fresh out of jail. The rest of the time, there is no confirmation. But lack of confirmation is not the same as disconfirmation.

So it seems to make sense to go along with the feeling. It won’t harm us if we are wrong, and it will help a lot if we are right. Of course, this is the same feeling that leads to racism. So maybe it will hurt people if we generalize too much on it.

zenvelo's avatar

A friend of mine was assigned a roommate when he lived in the dorms his first year at college. The guy seemed nice enough, but he was truly creepy, he seemed to not be socialized.

He stared intensely at people, to the point one became uncomfortable. We knew he showered but his hair was always unshampooed. He had strange mannerisms. And he had an odd way of standing near people in a way that did not confront you, but still violated your personal space.

Linda_Owl's avatar

I have experienced this phenomenon & I trust my instincts – so I avoid being around anyone who sets off alarm bells in my mind.

susanc's avatar

I think that cognitive dissonance thing is pretty reliable in the case of individuals (NOT in the case of whole groups; fear of whole groups can be bridged by opening yourself to individuals’ ordinary humanity). Something feels wrong, something is out of whack? My personal theory is that we intuit the split when a person is hiding something. There’s a tension. It’s like the way lies are often very, very boring, even if you don’t know they’re lies. We get all yawny and restless in the presence of inauthenticity, without knowing what the secret is. We have a sensor for that splitting inside another person.
I have one person in my life right now who’s got a crush on me. She sends me little poems and stuff. But she won’t talk about it. She goes hahahahaha all the time, very tense. If she told me she has a crush on me I could tell her it’ll never fly, and that’s why she doesn’t say it. She lives with it on her own. So spending time with her is loaded. This kind of splitting is innately tiring for both people. I get crushes on people too (also known as enjoying people’s company very much). I try to tell the truth to the object of the crush, even if it means they might back away. It’s worth it, because losing someone who doesn’t want me to have a feeling about them is a good loss. I’m probably just mistaking them for someone else anyway…..

ZEPHYRA's avatar

Yes, the jellies have covered it so eloquently, it is just that some people pick up the aura a person emits!

YARNLADY's avatar

Sometimes we can be adversly affected by something physical, such as warts or close set eyes. People are always uneasy around my brother because his eyes don’t track together. He has what is called lazy eye similar to this picture. This is NOT my brother, but the eyes are similar.

I had a roommate once who had what some people call evil eye. He was a policeman. I heard some say it feels like he is looking right through you. Our housekeeper asked me to have him stay in his room while she was there. Even our dog was afraid of him. When Roomy looked directly at the dog, he would put this head and tail down. It never bothered me.

Bellatrix's avatar

I don’t know what causes it but I listen to it when it happens. I remember having this feeling about a guy my friend was getting very close to. I avoided being around him because he gave me the creeps. I warned her about him but she ignored me. He ended up trying to rape her. Listen to that feeling.

augustlan's avatar

@Brian1946 Nope! I wasn’t fond of him, but I wasn’t scared of him at all. We were completely shocked to hear he’d murdered all those people. Clearly, our instincts are not always right, huh? :(

Self_Consuming_Cannibal's avatar

When it comes to creepy it’s kind of like being cool. Either you are or you aren’t. You can’t really change things. lol

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