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  • Hey, Vsauce, Michael here. Fear gives us life. Being afraid of the right things kept our

  • ancestors alive. It makes sense to be afraid of poisonous insects or hungry tigers, but

  • what about fear when there is no clear and obvious danger? For instance, a Teddy Bear

  • with a full set of human teeth...or a smile.jpeg. There's something a little off about these

  • images- too much mystery, and strange-ness, but no obvious threat, the way there is with

  • a gun or falling rock. But, yet, they still insight fear, because they are creepy. But

  • why? What gives us the creeps? What causes something to be creepy?

  • We are now in my bedroom- the bedroom I grew up in, in Kansas. Like a lot of children my

  • age, I was terrified of "Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark." But the very first book

  • that ever scared me was "The Curse of the Squirrel." To this day, I still haven't finished

  • the book...but that's just me.

  • Psychologist James Geer developed the "Fear Survey Schedule II" which he used to find

  • out what scared us the most, combined with the results of a more recently Gallup poll,

  • these are the things that scare most of us, the most. All of these things are scary, but

  • are they creepy? Let's get more specific.

  • I love the way Stephen King delineates three types of scary stuff. The first is the "gross-out"-

  • this is something disgusting, morbid, diseased. The second is "horror"- horror, to King, is

  • the unnatural- a giant spider, or being grabbed in the dark when you thought you were alone.

  • The third: "Terror" is different, creepier. He says terror is coming home to find that

  • everything you own has been replaced with an exact copy. Terror is feeling something

  • behind you- it's breath on your neck. Knowing that you will be grabbed, but then turning

  • around to find that there was never anything there in the first place. Not a lot of research

  • has been done on that feeling- the creeps- but many theories and ideas involve vagueness,

  • ambiguity. For instance, masks, and why clowns are creepy.

  • Claude Levi-Strauss wrote that the facial disguise temporarily eliminates, from social

  • intercourse, the part of the body which reveals personal feelings and attitudes. Part of the

  • reason even a neutral or happy mask can be creepy may have to do with ambiguity. A mask

  • hides the true emotions and intentions of the person underneath. I don't know if the

  • person wearing that mask is a threat or not.

  • Vagueness is creepy when it comes to the human form. This is the famous Uncanny Valley. On

  • a chart of humanness there's a zone where something can be almost entirely human, but

  • off by just a little. Not so wrong that it's clearly fake or funny, or so good that it's

  • indistinguishable. Instead, it's just troubling.

  • The creepiness of the Uncanny Valley is wonderfully demonstrated by John Bergeron's Singing Androids.

  • Watch these videos when you're alone...

  • A similar uneasy feeling comes from ShayeSaintJohn, a character created by Eric Fournier. Funny

  • to some, nightmare fuel to others.

  • Uncanny humanoids, like all creepy things, straddle a line between two regions that we

  • can understand and explain with language. Francis T. McAndrew and Sara Koehnke describe

  • being "creeped out" as an adaptive human response to the ambiguity of threats from others.

  • Creepy things are kind of a threat, maybe, but they're also kind of not. So, our brains

  • don't know what to do. Some parts respond with fear, while other parts don't, and they

  • don't know why. So, instead of achieving a typical fear response, horror, we simply feel

  • uneasy, terror, creeped out. Between the mountains of safety and danger, there is a valley of

  • creepiness where the limits of our knowledge, and trust, and security aren't very clear.

  • Will looking at this cause you to die one week later? Impossible, right? Maybe that's

  • the terror of ambiguity.

  • We don't do well with ambiguity. When it involves our own intentions, it can make us lie. And

  • when it involves danger, but no recognizable threat, it can make us think and feel some

  • pretty weird things. Have you ever peered over a ledge, a railing, way high-up, like,

  • so high-up it made you feel nervous and dizzy, and felt something pushing you? Maybe even

  • an urge to jump? Have you ever stood on the ledge with a loved one and realize that you

  • could push them? It would be that easy. You really could do it, and maybe you do want

  • to do it, or maybe it's just cognitive dissonance- the fact that your brain is having to deal

  • with ambiguity.

  • A recent study by Jennifer Hames at Florida State University dubbed this the High Place

  • Phenomenon. When approaching a ledge and a dangerous drop, your survival instinct kicks

  • in and you pull yourself away. But, your balance and motor systems don't get it. Nothing is

  • pushing you, and you don't normally fall or leap randomly. So, what's going on? The part

  • of your brain that processes intention might resolve this by determining that something

  • must be pushing you. Or, that you might actually want to jump or push your friend, even if

  • none of that is true.

  • Now, we're not done with ambiguity yet because our language reflects the gray area of terror

  • and creepiness. Take a look at the word "terror," itself. We have "horrible" and "horrific."

  • "Terrible" and "terrific." Why is that? Well, through history, we never really figured out

  • what to call powerful experiences, because they're both. They are full of awe...awesome.

  • And, they are full of aw...awful. We need them to survive. We need fears, and the creeps,

  • to understand our size, our weaknesses. But, on the other hand, avoiding them is pretty

  • great too...The creeps is a physical reminder that the world is vague and full of ambiguity,

  • but that we are cunning- always trying to figure things out. But, nonetheless, fragile.

  • Is that terrible or terrific? Well, it's both. Which, as a creepy ghost would say, is kind

  • of boo-tiful. And, as always, thanks for watching.

Hey, Vsauce, Michael here. Fear gives us life. Being afraid of the right things kept our

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Why Are Things Creepy?

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    Halu Hsieh posted on 2013/08/25
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