The creepiest thing you’ve ever heard in your life is probably going to be a song.
That’s the conclusion of an extensive study by researchers at Columbia University, which used audio-visual analysis to track the creepiness of music videos.
The research found that the creepier the video, the more likely it is that listeners are going to associate it with creepy.
“We were interested in how video is perceived, how it is seen by others, how the audience reacts, how viewers interpret the content and whether or not it is associated with certain personality traits,” said Sarah Liss-Riordan, lead author of the study and a postdoctoral fellow in the Columbia Media Lab.
“So, when we were actually looking at videos from a large sample of music video users, the creep factor was really strong,” she said.
Liss-Reiordan said she was initially interested in whether the creepfactor is an effect of whether the video is creepy or not.
“We wanted to understand how people are perceived and how they interact with music videos,” she told The Verge.
“But we found that, surprisingly, this is something that happens in the context of non-creepy content.
It was more apparent when we looked at non-clowny videos.”
The researchers asked the question of whether or “not a song that features an extremely creepy character is considered creepy or creepy by others.”
They found that videos with an especially creepy character were more likely to be viewed by people who had previously experienced the creepy character, compared to videos that featured a non-crawling character.
“It’s not that a song is scary or creepy if you haven’t been to a creepy location in the real world,” Liss -Riordon said.
“It’s just that in our experiment, we found music videos that had been filmed in a nonchalant, non-threatening way.”
“In the case of a song, the creepyness of the character is actually a function of how the listener feels about it,” she added.
“So, if the person watching the video knows they’ve been through the same situation before, they might feel like they can relate to that character, and they might be able to identify with it, and that might make them more likely not to react with fear.”
The study looked at music videos released in 2017 and 2018, and included videos of more than 1.2 million people who downloaded at least one song.
“What we were able to observe was that people were more interested in music videos with creepy characters,” Lish-Reaion said.
“This is something we’ve seen before in research, where people who are scared are more likely than people who aren’t to react to scary situations.”
The findings suggest that when a music video features a creepy character or characters, the listener is more likely respond in an aggressive way.
“In this case, we observed that people who were more scared, like people who already had a strong sense of their own identity, were more inclined to respond in a way that would make them feel that they have a right to react, like they’re being treated differently by others,” Lis-Reiaion said in a statement.
“That could make them think that the video’s being made for them and they’re more likely, by the way, to be able respond to the video in a positive manner.”