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With her bulging eyes, stringy hair and sadistic smile, Momo quickly slid into our nightmares. Images of Momo, a deranged looking woman's torso perched on a body of a bird, have spread quickly as the “Momo challenge,” became news. While the challenge appears to be a hoax, there’s still something about Momo that makes our skin crawl.
“There are two kinds of creepy. The Momo thing gives us both,” Frank McAndrew, a professor of psychology at Knox College in Illinois, told TODAY. “That is what makes it especially creepy to people.”
The spread of the Momo challenge first started in South America last year and reportedly started popping up in the Northern hemisphere this year. Allegedly, Momo appears in the middle of children’s YouTube videos and encourages them to do increasingly risky things and take photos of it. But on Twitter, YouTube said it simply cannot find any evidence of it.
As articles about the challenge spread, people have been forced to look at her face and shudder at the sight.
One reason she causes chills? People don’t like things that look unrealistically human, what’s known as the uncanny valley. Think wax figures, ventriloquist dummies, realistic dolls or humanoid robots. While Momo’s face is exaggerated, she’s still human in all the wrong ways.
“Consciously, you know this thing isn’t a human. You are left in a conflicted state of being with some impulses telling you to interact with it and some impulses that are telling you not to,” McAndrew said.
People also don’t know what Momo is. She has unusually-sized human features but her body is also part bird, part woman.
“We don’t like not being able to understand what something is,” McAndrew said. “We find it unsettling.”
Another reason Momo seems so scary is because she's mysterious, which could make her a threat.
"You don’t know if there is something to be afraid of or not," he said.
When people can’t tell whether something is a risk, they often react with fear. Take a person who doesn’t make eye contact or has unwashed hair or dirty clothes: The brain wonders if something is wrong from these signals.
“It is this uncertainty of danger,” he said. “People want clarity. Is this a thing I should worry about?”
Momo combines all these elements, which makes her seem super terrifying.
“It is associated with this kind of harm, this serious threat to children,” McAndrew said. “You are left wallowing in discomfort.”