B1 Intermediate 3591 Folder Collection
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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.
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Why Are Things Creepy?

3591 Folder Collection
Halu Hsieh published on August 25, 2013
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