The psychopath I was involved with sometimes made strange and disturbing facial expressions.

 A sad face with the corners of his mouth turned up just a little too much. A high-voltage smile that would have blown every transformer in town if he were hooked up to the grid. A Heath-Ledger-Joker-Face I caught twice when I turned around quickly, which came across as a sinister duping hysteria. And a face that was so devoid of expression that he looked just like a corpse — slack, gray and emotionless, punctuated by two lifeless eyes.

These faces struck me as being uncanny. The first two came across as not-quite-right, and the last two came across as quite disturbing.

What exactly does uncanny mean?

 The uncanny (‘the opposite of what is familiar’) is a Freudian concept of an instance where something can be both familiar yet alien at the same time, resulting in a feeling of it being uncomfortably strange. Because the uncanny is familiar, yet incongruous, it often creates cognitive dissonance within the experiencing subject, due to the paradoxical nature of being simultaneously attracted to yet repulsed by an object.



Because the psychopath wears a mask to hide himself, there are two kinds of facial expressions we may see:

Those that are phony and meant to convey some type of emotion, and those that are his real expressions, the ones he tries to suppress.

When we see these facial expressions and recognize them as a little bit ‘off,’ downright fake, or just plain strange as hell, we are experiencing the Uncanny Valley.

“The uncanny valley is a hypothesis in the field of human aesthetics which holds that when human features look and move almost, but not exactly, like natural human beings, it causes a response of revulsion among some human observers. The “valley” refers to the dip in a graph of the comfort level of humans as subjects move toward a healthy, natural human likeness described in a function of a subject’s aesthetic acceptability. Examples can be found in the fields of robotics and 3D computer animation, among others.”


This graph illustrates the uncanny valley:




The psychopath I knew sometimes inhabited the area between bunraku puppet and zombie. But the majority of the time, he was pretty good at pulling it off. I was able to dismiss the Not-Quite-Sad faces and the Way-Too-Happy faces, but the Joker and the Corpse were traumatic and frightening.  I knew when I saw them that they were absolutely genuine. At those times, his mask was off — and I was deep within the Uncanny Valley. Too deep.

The uncanny valley effect not just limited to facial expressions — it also extends to the way someone moves, and also to the way they react to things. For example, if someone does not have a startle response when they hear a scream, it comes across as very disturbing.

Researchers say that in the uncanny valley, the human mind recognizes the subject as an obvious nonhuman, but then is attracted to it by the presence of human qualities. They’re talking about robots and animations, but…


 “The same reactive trajectory applies to narcissists and psychopaths: they are near-perfect imitations of humans, but lacking empathy and emotions. They are so close to being real, but they are just this shade of wrong.” 

~ “Peter Hale, Uncanny Valley, and Cold Empathy”  Bizzaro Dopplepopolis


Now, let’s get to something really mind-blowing:

Since the uncanny valley is, at its core, a perception of lifelessness, PSYCHOPATHS PROBABLY PERCEIVE US AS BEING IN THE UNCANNY VALLEY, ALL THE TIME. Since they view us as no different from inanimate objects that they look upon with contempt, they may perceive all of us as uncanny. As not really real. They may walk around seeing others as lifelike robots, maybe like this one:



One of Dr.Hiroshi Ishiguro’s uncanny robots.


Do we worry about hurting a robot? No. They can’t feel, after all. We have no empathy for robots because they’re not human, because they’re not alive. They exist to serve us, to fulfill our needs. If psychopaths can only see us as uncanny — as lifelike robots — it explains a lot.


 It’s kind of ironic that we both see each other as being in the uncanny valley, isn’t it?


“The uncanny valley, we think, is the perception of lifelessness, with the natural result being fear and disgust…This may be why, after being run down by a sociopath and realizing that the person has no moral wiring, we feel disgusted — the sociopath, to us, is in the uncanny valley. (Those of you who have experienced this know this kick-in-the-gut feeling).” 

~ “Do sociopaths see everyone as though in the uncanny valley?” Neurological Correlates 


 ♥ Have you had experiences in the uncanny valley? Share them by leaving a comment.


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