Why Do We Find Dolls Creepy?

Dolls, which are usually innocuous can sometimes take on an additional creepy-factor. The fear of dolls it isn't that unheard of. In fact, there is even a name for the fear of dolls: pediophobia. Although, you don't have to have pediophobia to be uneasy around dolls sometimes. 

Link Link Link Link

There isn't a definitive reason for why we find dolls creepy. However, there are some interesting theories. For example, dolls can inhabit Uncanny Valley territory. Although dolls have been played with for thousands of years the theory of the Uncanny Valley wasn't brought up until the 1970s.  Japanese roboticist, Masahiro Mori, brought up that as robots began to looks more like humans, people would find them more acceptable and appealing...but only to a point. If they were close to a human...but not quite "human" people develop a sense of "unease and discomfort." It is this particular "distinctive dip in the relationship between human-likeness and emotional response that is called the uncanny valley."

So, what does this have to do with dolls? Well, they look human even though we know they are NOT human. The human brain is designed to read faces in order to gauge important information, like emotions and potential threats. So, when we see a face that looks human and isn't, we aren't able to read it and it rattles our instincts. 

But, dolls weren't always creepy. It is only as we entered the 20th century that they became more and more human and lifelike. So, maybe that is why we find them unsettling now.

It is not just the Uncanny Valley at work, here. In fact, popular culture definitely plays a part. Movies like Chucky (and the series it spawned) and Annabelle work to reinforce dolls' creepiness. In fact, the director of Annabelle commented on his use of a doll in the movie. John Leonetti said, "If you think about them, most dolls are emulating a human figure. But they’re missing one big thing, which is emotion. So they’re shells. It’s a natural psychological and justifiable vehicle for demons to take it over. If you look at a doll in its eyes, it just stares. That’s creepy. They’re hollow inside. That space needs to be filled.”

By culture capitalizing on the empty-vessel aspect of dolls and making them the antagonist in horror movies, society's slight fear of dolls is justified and increased.

In Freud's essay "The Uncanny" , which is also a reading of "Der Sandmann" by E.T.A Hoffman, he discusses the doll-like automaton. Freud makes the interesting argument that the anxiety and fear caused may be due to the questioning of "whether an apparently animate being is really alive; or, conversely, whether a lifeless object might be in fact animate." He also describes the feeling of the "uncanny" as strangely familiar. "Strangely familiar" seems to wholly describe dolls - they look like us...but not. They are lifeless but not dead and can make "eye contact", despite not having real eyes.

What do you think? Do you have another theory as to why we fear dolls?


The above image is by Tiffany Terry and is liscensed under Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0).