As It Happens

Who's the creepiest of them all? Bird watchers, fingernail collectors and clowns

A study that gives us the heebie-jeebies. An Illinois professor looks into what types of people are the creepiest. Clowns, fingernail collectors and birdwatchers are on the list.
Clowns, funeral directors and bird watchers creep people out, according to a new study out of Knox College in Illinois. (Fernando Vergara/AP)

What do most people find creepy? Clowns, taxidermists, collectors and bird watchers, according to a new paper that researchers say is the first of its kind.

After Frank McAndrew began noticing how often people use the term "creepy," he wondered what kind of data existed on the subject, he tells As It Happens guest host Laura Lynch.

"I was amazed that there was nothing done on this."

Frank McAndrew led the study on what's creepy. (Frank McAndrew)

So McAndrew recruited one of his students at Knox College in Illinois and put together an online survey.

"We had 1,340 people respond from all over the world, but it was primarily an American sample," says McAndrew.

They asked participants which traits they'd find creepy, if a friend was describing meeting a new person to them. Those traits were then rated. 

What is creepy:

  • Standing too close to someone
  • Smiling peculiarly
  • Talking too much about a topic, especially sex
  • Laughing at inappropriate times
  • Not letting someone out of conversation
  • Displaying too much or too little emotion
  • Physical irregularities — long fingers or pasty skin
  • Having greasy hair
  • Wearing dirty or weird clothes
  • Licking lips too much

Creepiest hobbies:

  • Taxidermy
  • Collecting things (especially people who collect things associated with death, dolls and things people are afraid of, like reptiles.)
  • Any types of watching activity, like bird watching or photography, especially of children
According to a study out of Knox College in Illinois, sex shop owners, taxidermists, funeral directors and clowns are the creepiest professions. ( Chris Trotman/FREDRIK VON ERICHSEN/ROSLAN RAHMAN/Getty Images)

Creepiest professions:

  • Clown
  • Taxidermist
  • Sex shop owner
  • Funeral director

McAndrew plans to continue his creepiness studies to find out how the trait is defined across cultures. He also hopes to find out if people are self-aware of their creepy behaviours.

For more on this story, take a listen to our full interview.

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