Predictable Identities: 6 – Creeps

We’ve looked at predicting people from a distance: employing stereotypes and homogenizing outgroups. Moving a step closer to the self, consider an individual you have just met. What are you looking for in the first few minutes of interaction? Among other things, often first among them, is predictability.

A member of your tribe is highly predictable. If you share a taste in clothes and podcasts you can predict with high confidence how they’ll react in social situations, what their habits and motivations are, etc. That’s why small talk about last night’s episode of Game of Thrones isn’t a waste of time. It communicates: I am like you, you can model me well by looking at yourself, we can cooperate.

Second best is someone who fits well in a group stereotype, even if that’s not your ingroup. You may not befriend many middle-aged bearded men who speak a language you can’t recognize, but you feel comfortable getting in a taxi with one.

Now consider someone who looks like you, watches the same shows, and also eats spiders they catch around the house. Would you get in a taxi with them?

The opposite of predictability is creepiness. In the leading research paper on the nature of creepiness, the author describes it:

The perception of creepiness is a response to the ambiguity of threat. […] While they may not be overtly threatening, individuals who display unusual patterns of nonverbal behavior, odd emotional responses or highly distinctive physical characteristics are outside the norm, and by definition unpredictable.

Eating spiders by itself doesn’t make one dangerous, but it’s a signal that this person can’t be predicted well by pattern matching to stereotypes or by self-modeling (unless you’re an arachnophage yourself). We react to creepiness not with fear but with aversion. We dislike what we cannot predict.

Series Navigation<< Predictable Identities: 5 – Outgroup HomogeneityPredictable Identities: 7 – Weirdness Budget >>

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About Jacob Falkovich

Jacob is so proud of his blog, putanumonit.com, that it's on his online dating profiles. He also tweets @yashkaf.

Comments

  1. O.K. but people seem to like adventures, even culinary ones, at distant places and sometimes even at home. We can do surreal. One could argue that one expects exotic people at exotic places like New York or Berlin and there are all kinds of meta-level predictions about the right setting and predictable out-groups which become in-groups, somewhere, where you belong to a major outgroup which is not creepy though, despite not wearing a Turban .. but then one can always add another level of predictability…

    In a former cycle of the pop-theory market we despised predictions and worshiped adaptation and Agile. Adaptation was super smart: all you ever needed was to change faster than your shadow, build models instantly and have a customer on board ( like a therapist or a spouse ). What was wrong about overcoming both bias and variance? I don’t know but since machine learning is en vogue, we go for knowledge and predictions again. What is creepiness? The feeling of a machine which believes it needs more data. It can be so easy.

  2. Hi Jacob,
    Excellent post! Pattern making and pattern matching are something that I feel we are naturally equipped to do. It serves many purposes, seeking comfortable company as well as avoiding harmful agents. But in my experience, it takes a lot of patience and courage to sit with the emotional brain, and reason against believing a notion by citing a lack of corroborating evidence. The negative what-ifs far outweigh the pleasant what ifs.

    P.S. I noticed you are using a sci-hub link. Wouldn’t a link to DOI and a passing reference to the sci-hub method of access be less scoffed upon by the you-know-whos?

    :)

  3. Maybe someone should do a series on the coded language used by women? Creepy means the converse; someone who shows behavior that we predict to be dangerous or had already been dangerous.

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