Visual Perception

The Psychic Staring Effect Is That Weird Feeling You're Being Stared At

You know the feeling. You just kind of know that someone is staring holes into the back of your head, even though you don't see anyone looking at you. This is the psychic staring effect. But, spoiler alert: feeling it probably doesn't mean you're psychic.

Can You Feel That?!

This effect, also sometimes called scopaesthesia, is the phenomenon of supposedly feeling people staring at you. But is that really something you can feel? British psychologist Edward Titchener was the first to write about this concept in his 1898 article "The Feeling of Being Stared At," published in Science magazine. Telepathy? Pfft. Titchener concluded that the effect may just be a self-fulfilling prophecy: you feel like your back is being stared at so you start feeling anxious and twitch around. The twitching and nervous behavior gains attention, so by the time you look around, people actually are staring. In a similar vein, the person you thought was staring at you directs their attention to you because they see your head turning to look at them.

Just Sense It With Your Aura, Man

Of course, one guy in the 1800s saying that the psychic staring effect is imaginary shouldn't be the final nail in the coffin. A parapsychologist named Rupert Sheldrake conducted several experiments on the effect in the 2000s. (Parapsychology, by the way, is a controversial field that many place within the pseudoscience camp. Think telepathy, auras, and paranormal phenomena.) Though he didn't give a hard yes or no on whether the effect is legitimate, he did report that some of the participants of his tests were "nearly always right, scoring way above chance levels." This research was criticized for not using truly random patterns in his experiments, among other issues. A 2009 study attempted to knock Sheldrake down a notch, and basically gave a scientific nod of agreement to the original Titchener article. Translation: Stop trying make the psychic staring effect happen. It's (probably) not going to happen.

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Can You Feel A Stare?

Written by Curiosity Staff July 18, 2016