On the nature of creepiness

“On the nature of creepiness” is a 2016 scientific paper by Francis T. McAndrew and Sara S. Koehnke. There are some obvious things, like being unkempt and dirty and people who do jobs like being an undertaker (anything that really activates our disgust and threat system). But there are some interesting less obvious ones too. The authors found that the following got the highest creepiness ratings: people who

  • observe people
  • observe in general (including birdwatchers)
  • have long fingers (I know lots of nice people who do have them!)
  • are very thin or skinny
  • avoid eye contact
  • display too little emotion
  • steer the conversation toward one topic
  • laugh at unpredictable times
  • are dressed oddly
  • are perceived as “unpredictable” (aka non-conformists)

As creepiness communicates a potential threat, men are generally perceived as creepy much more frequently. Witches are usually considered the creepiest kinds of females and we do associate most of these traits with them: skinniness, long fingers, paleness, erratic laughter, loners and of course oddly dressed.

When I read the study I became suddenly aware that all of these traits are typical traits of people on the autism spectrum. You can actually group these traits into several categories, like social awkwardness (difficulty with eye contact, insecurity how to respond socially, different sense of humour), special interests (collections, preferred topic to talk about), non-conformism (fashion) and physical features (skinny, pale and long fingers).

To be fair, these traits can be extended to IN (introverted intuitive) types in general regardless if they are on the spectrum or not. I (INFP) was a shy, pale and skinny teen who had difficulties with social interactions (including eye contact). I didn’t have a special interest at the time, on the contrary, I had an extremely wide range of interests and I have never really collected anything. Also, I was a very nice person, too emotional, if anything. And yet, I suppose, like so many other IN types, I was considered a creep, not least of all because of my social anxiety.

And I did often feel like in the Radiohead song “Creep”

But I’m a creep

What the hell am I doin’ here?

I don’t belong here

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Originally published at on June 3, 2021.

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