Bad news for writers everywhere…
Creepiness is defined, in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, as a feeling of nervous shivery apprehension. However, it is a word which, in all honesty, does not need defining: from a very young age, we all develop our own unique fears and superstitions. As such, when we heard the word “creepy”, we each visualise something different: for this writer, it is the sound of footsteps behind her in a darkened alley, or the thrill that comes from stepping into the unknown (be it a cellar or an attic), or that strange sensation that she is being watched.
In short, it is not a word we know, but a word we feel deep within our bones whenever someone utters it in our presence.
So, with Halloween almost upon us, it may come as a surprise to learn that there has never been a scientific study into the concept of “creepiness”.
Until now, that is.
To celebrate the return of winter – with all of its wild weather, darkened nights, and shorter days – a group of scientists have decided to get their creep on.
And, after surveying 1,341 individuals from around the world, they came up with surprising results; there are certain jobs which are more strongly linked with creepiness than others.
Explaining how they gauged whether a job was creepy or not, they explained that it was based on people’s reactions; they would often find their trigger response to be “both unpleasant and confusing”, and it “may be accompanied by physical symptoms such as feeling cold or chilly”.
With that in mind, what was the job that left people feeling the most creeped out?
Yup, you guessed it; clowns topped the chart as the creepiest job at all – which should come as no surprise, considering the spate of ‘Killer Clowns’ that have been spotted across the UK and the USA of late.
They were followed closely by taxidermists and sex shop owners.
However, some of the ‘creepy’ jobs unveiled by scientists at Knox College in Illinois were very unexpected – such as, for example, the humble writer. Although presumably this is the fault of The Shining, Misery, Sinister, 1408, Barton Fink and the like (indeed, it seems that creepy writers are something of a trope in the horror genre: go figure!).
You can find the full list of the world’s creepiest jobs, ranked in order of creepiness, below:
- Sex Shop Owner
- Funeral Director
- Taxi Driver
- Garbage Collector
Explaining the results, the researchers said that it has a lot to do with ambiguous threats, particularly when its related to “non-verbal behaviour” – which explains the cold pit of fear we feel in our stomachs at the sight of a wordless clown.
They added: “We are placed on our guard by people who touch us or exhibit non-normative non-verbal behaviour, or those who are drawn to occupations that reflect a fascination with death or unusual sexual behaviour.”
People who collect items as a hobby, particularly objects which we are naturally predisposed to (such as dolls, spiders, or skulls) also tend to trigger our ‘creepiness’ radar.
However certain behavioural traits can cause us to react fearfully to others, the scientists added, saying that “individuals who display unusual patterns of nonverbal behaviour, odd emotional responses, or highly distinctive physical characteristics are outside of the norm, and by definition unpredictable.”
They continued: “This may activate our ‘creepiness detector’ and increase our vigilance as we try to discern if there is in fact something to fear or not from the person in question.”
Read more: 10 bestselling horror books
Unusual behaviour, such as working odd hours, can contribute to this – which may go some way towards explaining why taxi drivers and garbage collectors made the list.
Researchers concluded: “Everything that we found in this study is consistent with the notion that the perception of creepiness is a response to the ambiguity of threat.”
Images: Persnickety Prints/Unsplash/Rex Features/iStock
This article was originally published in 2016.