|Why do things give us the creeps?|
|Question Date: 2016-08-31|
Everybody has been in a situation where
suddenly, sometimes for no apparent reason, they
get 'the creeps.' Everybody experiences the creeps
differently, but some common feelings include a
slight chill, a feeling of unease, even getting
goosebumps or the feeling of the hair on the back
of your neck standing up. Why does this
happen? Because your brain notices
something might not be right and wants you to pay
When the brain notices we are in a dangerous
situation (like when we see a tiger), it responds
with the ‘fight or flight’ response and
releases adrenaline to increase our heart rate
and give us the energy and reaction time to
survive. Sometimes, however, the brain isn’t
sure if the situation is dangerous or not. Maybe
it sees a shadow that looks like a tiger, but
might not be. In that case, it gives us ‘the
creeps’ to make us pay more attention.
The feeling of unease makes us more likely to
pay attention to our surroundings and notice if
there is a threat. You might get the goosebumps
so that your body hair stands up and is more
likely to notice if something brushes it.
So, to summarize, we get the creeps because the
brain notices something isn’t right but isn’t sure
if it is dangerous or not yet.
I guess there are two ways we can get “the
creeps.” One way is when something is
scary. We get a fight or flight response from
a burst of adrenaline. The response sends
blood to our heart and muscles and away from our
digestive system. We bring in more oxygen by
breathing more. Our hearts beat faster to send the
blood with its supply of oxygen and sugar where
it’s needed. All of this makes it easier us to
fight or flee. (The word flight comes from flee,
not fly.) Our hair stands up to make us look
bigger. (Okay, that doesn’t work to well for us,
but it worked for our hairier ancestors.)
Another meaning of “the creeps” is
disgust. The sight, smell, taste, or even
thought of some things makes us uncomfortable.
Disgust can even make us physically sick.
What’s the point of that? It may help keep us
healthy. If we avoid smelly dead things, we are
less likely to get sick.
Our distant ancestors probably never travelled
very far. They learned what was good to eat by
eating what everyone else ate. Eating a brand new
thing is a risk. If there was nothing else to eat
and someone was hungry enough to overcome their
disgust, things might go well and everyone would
have a new thing to eat. If not, oops. So foods
we’re not used to can disgust us. A friend of mine
was travelling in another country and had some
really good rice. She asked about it the next day
and found out that the “rice” was ant eggs. There
is nothing unhealthy about ant eggs. She liked the
taste when she didn’t know what the dish was. But
she was raised in a society where eating bugs
gives people the creeps.
A lot of what disgusts us--whether it’s a food,
a smell, or something else--is emotional and has
nothing to do with the quality of something. I’m
not saying that you should eat those smelly
leftovers in the back of the refrigerator. I am
saying that disgust is an emotion. It
should tell us to pay attention to a possible
risk. Then we should use our reasoning to decide
whether it really makes sense to be disgusted.
Potential food poisoning is something to avoid. A
food that is just unfamiliar is probably worth a
try. I’m not really shopping for ant eggs,
Obviously, not all species are disgusted by the
same thing. Dogs don’t seem to be disgusted by
much. Do a bit of research on what wolves eat and
see if you can figure out why they would not have
a strong sense of disgust.
If questions like this interest you, you may
want to study behavior or psychology.
Thanks for asking,
Fear is an evolutionary advantage for an
animal to have of things that are dangerous to it.
Our ancestors evolved to fear things that are
either dangerous or likely to appear with
dangerous things (for example, if you see a dead
body, the corpse might not be dangerous, but
whatever killed it is and may still be nearby!).
To me, getting the creeps means you’re
feeling a few different emotions, maybe like fear
or disgust. Some psychologists think that
these emotions are adaptive, or help us to survive
when faced with dangerous things. For instance, no
one ever told you to think that a spider is creepy
or dangerous, but most people certainly don’t like
them. So when we see a spider we instinctively
don’t like them, or we feel the creeps, because
some part of the brain (likely a part called the
amygdala) is aware of the potential danger
and creates an emotion, like fear, that motivates
us to get away or to fight the threat.
Feeling disgusted at something is another
reason why we may feel the creeps. We don’t like
the sight or smell of rotting food because that’s
our brain sensing some chemicals in the air
(that’s what smelling is), and determining that
those chemicals are produced by things that are
not healthy for us. So again our brain is
trying to protect us by making us feel these
emotions, by making us get the creeps. It’s
fun to think about these things with Halloween
coming up. It seems like sometimes we like to feel
Thanks for the great question,
I've heard that called the Yuck factor
and different people respond to different things.
Maybe it evolved because we lived longer if we
didn't die from eating things like rotten food. We
don't understand everything about it yet.
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