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Psychology Professor Breaks Down Why We Find Momo So Creepy

Ever since her nightmarish face started popping up everywhere, Momo has made things both creepy and confusing for a lot of people.

It started with a supposed challenge sweeping social media where someone claiming to be Momo would present people with tasks that got more dangerous until it finally ended with the "player's" suicide.

However, other than some police warnings and questionable and unconfirmed links to actual suicides, no reliable evidence exists that this challenge is anything but a hoax.

Still, the Momo phenomenon persists and on psychology professor has some insights into the fuel that keeps its relevance burning.

When people try to put the Momo matter to bed, we end up seeing more frantic messages about another Momo sighting.

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As Snopes reported, this is possibly due to certain pranksters realizing what panicked reactions they can get by pretending to be Momo and using her extreme reputation to get a rise out of people.

Yet, when it comes to Momo's persistence, the creepy face that's been attached to the phenomenon seems to do a lot of the legwork.

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According to Rolling Stone, the face comes from an unrelated (and now destroyed) sculpture by Japanese artist Keisuke Aiso.

As it was based on a Japanese ghost story, it was certainly supposed to be scary, but it's definitely not supposed to encourage anyone to harm themselves.

But what exactly makes Momo's face so enduringly creepy?

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To answer that, Forbes got in touch with psychology professor Francis McAndrew, whose research includes an exploration into what makes clowns so scary and a paper actually entitled "On Creepiness."

As far as McAndrew has determined, there are two main reasons why anything is creepy.

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One of them holds that something becomes creepy when it becomes difficult for humans to categorize it.

We can, for instance, hear a sudden screech and then feel better about it when we realize it's coming from an owl. But a somewhat human-like bird monster? That's a little different.

It also doesn't help when it's unclear as to whether this thing we're trying to identify is a threat to us.

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Although Momo may seem like something we'd never want to interact with, that ambiguity does exist in this case because the original rumors of the challenge have her string you along with some lighter tasks at first.

It's only when it's somehow "too late" that Momo reveals what she actually wants. If she tried to encourage self-harm right off the bat, she probably wouldn't have caught on as much.

So, as we've just explored, McAndrew says that Momo freaks people out because she fulfills both categories.

Not only is it not immediately clear what she's even supposed to be, but it's not immediately clear what her intentions are in (again, likely untrue) stories where people communicate with her.

There's also the issue of what's known as the "uncanny valley," where something that we know isn't human looks close enough to one to be repulsive.

Facebook | Momo Creepy

As McAndrew told Forbes, "The Momo character has big eyes and a human-like facial expression, so it presses buttons in our brain that make us respond to it as if it was a human. At the same time, we know that it is not human, so we struggle with the discomfort of not knowing how exactly to respond to it. Also, since it is hard to make sense of what it is, we obsess over it as we seek closure."

Although McAndrew doesn't mention this, there could be another, more subtle factor in what makes Momo so effectively creepy.

Reddit | Keisuke Aiso

Some research suggests that the amygdala (the part of our brain where a lot of our emotions are processed) responds more strongly the more we detect eye whites. That's because the more our eye whites are showing, the morel ikely it is that we're indicating fear.

For instance, compare the massive eyes we see on Momo to the attempt to make her cuter above this picture. Her "normal" form shows much more of the eye whites.

h/t: Forbes