Our Brains Can't Handle Fake Faces

Horror films have primed us to fear a lot of usually pleasant things, from clowns to dolls. When did a child's play toy start giving us the creeps?

As it turns out, doll faces have the ability to unsettle us at the most basic level. Humans are innately social creatures, so our brains have evolved to read faces for signs of emotion, intent, and potential threat. As dolls become increasingly realistic, our brains recognize their features as human-like...but not quite. The fact that their faces don't convey emotion just throws us off.

This uneasy feeling is due to the "uncanny valley": the strange place on the continuum between fake and real human that gives you the creeps. In 1970, the Japanese robotics engineer Masahiro Mori noticed that the more human-like the robot, the more appealing they are to people—to a point. Once they look too much like a real human, people get uneasy.

The fear of dolls, pediophobia, lies under the "uncanny valley" umbrella of phobias called automatonophobia, or a fear of things that look like humans. This fear can encompass other objects, too, such as robots, wax figures, and statues. Like pediophobia, the more lifelike the inanimate object is, the creepier it becomes. In the videos below, learn about more unusual phobias and why we find things creepy.

What Makes Something Creepy?

Fear makes sense for survival, but why do we experience fear when there's no obvious danger?

Why Human Replicas Creep Us Out

You know that repulsion you feel when you see strange, human-like robots or animation? That's called "uncanny valley."

Discover Some Unusual Phobias

You can have a doll phobia. What other strange things do people fear?

Written by Curiosity Staff November 9, 2016

Curiosity uses cookies to improve site performance, for analytics and for advertising. By continuing to use our site, you accept our use of cookies, our Privacy Policy and Terms of Use.