I am increasingly aware that half the people I know regularly ‘freak out’. I don’t know precisely what this involves, but it happens a lot. It seems to be an interesting mixture of catch-all emotional reaction and a way of responding to the unknown. I’ve been trying to classify the different types:
- An exaggeration of “I had a negative emotional reaction”. People get ‘freaked out’ in films that make you jump, but saying ‘it freaked me out’ sounds more primeval, mysterious and uncontrollable than ‘I jump when things frighten me’1.
- The basic “I didn’t like it”. Put a fork anywhere near your eye and half the table will ‘freak out’. I think this is just another way of saying squick.
- Unknown emotional reactions / cognitive dissonance; for example, coincidences. The brain doesn’t know how to resolve coincidences as there’s no pattern to detect, even though it seems like there should be. There’s no particular emotion associated with cognitive dissonance, so ‘it freaked me out’ substitutes as a way to react.
- Related to the previous one – “I don’t understand what’s happening.” I know of people who won’t watch Derren Brown because he freaks them out.
That’s all I’ve picked up on so far. Anything else?
- this is not to mock – I jump at everything. Close a car door on the other side of the street and you’ll find me at the top of the nearest lamp post [↩]