The Feeling Of Being Watched Explained Scientifically!


You all know the feeling: Even when you’re not looking at people, you can “sense” if they’re looking at you. A social psychologist at Lake Forest College explains this strange phenomenon scientifically.


Because eyes are the window to the soul.

Just kidding. Go believe in “souls” somewhere else, people.

We are gathered here today to solve this. How on earth can we tell if someone is looking at us without even turning our head?!!

"The perception originates from a system in the brain that's devoted just to detecting where others are looking."

Ilan Shrira from Lake Forest College says that  "This 'gaze detection' system is especially sensitive to whether someone's looking directly at you (for example, whether someone's staring at you or at the clock just over your shoulder). Studies that record the activity of single brain cells find that particular cells fire when someone is staring right at you, but—amazingly—not when the observer's gaze is averted just a few degrees to the left or right of you (then different cells fire instead)."

That means, your gaze is amazingly important when communicating with others.

"Making direct eye contact is the most frequent and perhaps the most powerful non-verbal signal we exchange with others; it's central to intimacy, intimidation, and social influence. Eye contact is so primal that its meaning extends across animal species: Predators stare intently before they pounce. Infants gaze at their parents to capture their attention. And as you probably know, humans and dogs can express many things to each other through eye contact alone."

So, now think of a time when you caught someone staring at you. What information was your visual system using that led to this awareness?

The first things you probably noticed were the other person's head and body positions. The most obvious case is when someone's body is pointed away from you, but their head is turned toward you. This alerts you to pay closer attention to their eyes.

But even when head and body positions don't give us much information, studies find that our peripheral vision can still detect another's gaze remarkably well. How do we do this?

"One factor goes back to our gaze detection system, which makes us more sensitive to the position of others' eyes than we realize. Another factor can be deduced by asking yourself this: How are human eyes different in their appearance from the eyes of other animals?  What's unique about the anatomy of human eyes?"

"The biggest difference is that when looking at human eyes, it's easy to distinguish the dark center (the pupil and iris) from the rest of the visible eyeball (the sclera, the white part)."

These are hard to distinguish in other animals because:
1) in many animals, the pupil and iris cover most of the outward appearance of the eye,
2) the sclera of other animals tends to be darker than the human sclera.

This contrast between the white sclera and the dark center makes it much easier to tell where someone is looking.

We use a simple rule: dark in the middle of the eye = eye contact; dark on the right = looking right; dark on the left = looking left.

Human survival depends more on cooperating and coordinating our efforts with other people, so communication skills have become more critical to our survival.

Gaze signaling and gaze detection have been huge assets to us. That feeling you get when you're being watched is your brain telling you, in a barely perceptible way, that something meaningful is happening!

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