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How To Avoid Being Seen as "Creepy"

image loading... by Bo Bennett, PhD, Social Scientist, Business Consultant
posted Wednesday Apr 22, 2015 12:30 AM

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Bo Bennett, PhD

Social Scientist, Business Consultant

About Bo Bennett, PhD

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If you have ever been referred to as "creepy" (and you probably have—at least behind your back), worry not. There are things you can do to significantly reduce your level of creepiness. Perhaps the most effective would be to become a woman if you are not already. Females do have the distinct advantage of being described as "creepy," far less than males do*—at least in a social perception sense. Also, creepiness can be pictured on a bell curve that peaks around age 50, so kids and old folks don't need to worry much about their creepiness. However, if you do fit the general creepiness demographic, there are certainly some things you can do to reduce your creepiness.

What is commonly referred to as "creepiness" today can best be defined as a form of stereotype based on a common, but subjective, set of characteristics and behaviors. There is a general sense that someone who is creepy either poses a physical threat to others or is engaged in malicious or perverse thinking involving others—generally the "others" being the ones to whom the person appears creepy. As with all stereotypes, while this might serve as an accurate heuristic more times than not, it is just a heuristic and is certainly no guarantee that a person is a legitimate threat or is thinking about anything even remotely perverse or malicious.

Creepiness can be split in two dimensions—one is behavioral, and the other is dispositional. While there is no clear line between the two, the dispositional creepiness has more to do with those characteristics that are less volatile and more indicative consistent personality traits, whereas the behavioral creepiness can be greatly reduced by making some simple changes. While dispositional creepiness may be very difficult to do much about, behavioral strategies can be used to compensate.

Bo's Five Rules To Avoid Being Perceived As Creepy

1) Don't look the part. The way you dress and your attention to personal grooming can knock off several points on your personal creepiness scale. The better dressed and groomed you are, the less creepy you appear. Of course, there are exceptions to this rule.

2) Be aware of your eye contact. Most of us enjoy people watching, which obviously requires looking at other people. There is nothing inherently creepy about looking at others since it is in our nature to be aware of others in our environment; however, creepiness increases with the amount of time looking. If someone catches you staring at them, either look away quickly which is a non-verbal way of saying, "yeah, I was staring... sorry about that" or offer a little smile and/or a friendly nod, then look away. The worse thing you can do is keep on staring. There are some exceptions to this rule, but the situation has to be right. For example, if the scene is in a singles bar, the person staring meets none of the other criteria for creepiness, has a high level of self-confidence, and the person who is being stared down is more concerned with "hooking up" than with creepiness, this otherwise creepy stare down may be effective.

3) Don't convey creepiness in your body language. Part of (unconsciously) determining if someone is a threat or not includes looking at posture. Slouching, head down (while staring), and hands in front pockets (or especially in pants) are strong indicators of creepiness.

4) Respect other peoples' personal space. A violation of personal space differs from person to person but is fairly consistent within cultures. Look for signs that you are too close to someone. If the other person keeps on taking a step away from you, see that as a sign. No matter how good a stranger might smell, don't go in for the deep sniff—especially don't do it with your eyes closed and act as if you are experiencing a moment of ecstasy. Don't touch the other person outside of an invitation or a culturally and situationally appropriate gesture, and never, ever, try to lick someone with whom you are not intimate.

5) Avoid going to certain places alone. You can be a snazzy dresser with a slick haircut, great eye contact, perfect posture, and well out of anyone's personal space, but if you spend your afternoons hanging out alone at Chuck-E-Cheeze's, you're a creep. People's creepiness detector sensitivity seems to rise with the percentage of children in an environment. Likewise, a woman's creepiness detector sensitivity seems to rise with the percentage of women in an environment. Assuming you have a good reason to be at places like elementary schools, playgrounds, or women's fitness centers, to avoid being perceived as a creep, go with someone else—just try not to go with someone who is more creepy than you.

Keep in mind that you can only influence, not control, others' perceptions of you. Stereotyping of any kind often leads to injustice, but we do not live in a just world. You are free to act as creepy as you want (within the boundaries of the law) but realize that there are social consequences. These suggestions I have outlined are easy to follow, should not be too controversial, and will make others feel more comfortable around you. So give them a try.

* A search for the terms "creepy guy," "creepy girl," "creepy man," "creepy woman," and "creepy lady" using Google Trends turned up more than twice the mentions of male creepiness than female creepiness for 2014.

Podcast Episode: How To Avoid Being Seen as "Creepy"

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