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Author Topic: How do we tell we're being watched without looking?  (Read 5949 times)

Steve Bijok

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Steve Bijok asked the Naked Scientists:
   
Hello From Dubai, Naked Scientists.

Why is it that we often get the feeling that we are being looked at by somebody, only to turn around and actually find that somebody really is looking at us?

The reverse can also take place, as you can be looking at somebody randomly in a room or a crowd, at which point they quickly turn and home on in you making eye contact almost immediately.

While it doesn't happen all the times, it does seem to happen quite regularly!

Thanks Naked Scientists.

What do you think?


 

Offline Chemistry4me

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How do we tell we're being watched without looking?
« Reply #1 on: 07/08/2009 11:35:18 »
I do believe it is all a coincidence :)
 

Offline graham.d

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How do we tell we're being watched without looking?
« Reply #2 on: 07/08/2009 13:16:09 »
There can be other inputs that you take in subliminally. For instance if you are in a area with other people you may notice that others around you have noticed someone intently looking at you; you may, even unconsciously, look around to follow their eye-line to see this person looking at you. In a quiet place where there is, you suppose, nobody else around, then you may find that someone else's presence may have an effect on the ambient sounds, like, for example, a lessening of birdsong. You may not be conscious of this but millions of years of evolution may well have built in, for very good reasons of survival, sensitivities to such things. Whether this person is intent on your presence is another matter, but if you are the only two people for miles around, there is a good chance he will have observed you and be looking in your direction. But maybe not, and when he looks up he sees you looking at him. In any case, a high percentage of times when you see someone else in such circumstances, they will be looking at you. This may convince you that there is something spooky going on, but I don't think so.
 

lyner

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How do we tell we're being watched without looking?
« Reply #3 on: 07/08/2009 13:17:11 »
Agreed. How many times do we look round and find no one is looking, how many times do we look at someone and they don't turn round and how many times do we just scan all the people around us?

There is also the issue of our peripheral vision being particularly sensitive to the pattern of a full face. When someone is actually looking at us (mild interest or just scanning) we will be aware of it. We will look anD - wow - they seem to be LOOKING at us. That may feel creepy and seem unduly significan.
 

Offline LeeE

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How do we tell we're being watched without looking?
« Reply #4 on: 07/08/2009 14:27:21 »
As SC says, peripheral vision is likely to be an important factor in this phenomenon.  IIRC, our peripheral vision covers about 220 deg in the horizontal axis (although wikipedia reckons it's slightly < 180 deg - hmm...), so we do actually see stuff behind us.
 

Offline Karsten

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How do we tell we're being watched without looking?
« Reply #5 on: 07/08/2009 14:34:23 »
Steve Bijok asked the Naked Scientists:
Why is it that we often get the feeling that we are being looked at by somebody, only to turn around and actually find that somebody really is looking at us?

Was this person looking at you BEFORE you turned around or did they begin looking at you because you turned around?

I find the phrase "looking at you" implies that something is emitted by the looker and it is received by the person looked at whereas seeing a person so far seems to be a rather passive action. Your eyes take in reflected light.

If you turn around often enough in a crowd to check who is looking, you will find that sometimes someone is looking. We tend to seek out faces.

It would be interesting to put individuals (especially those who claim they are good a sensing this) in a room that has viewing holes in lots of places. Maybe covered with two-way mirrors (although glass might inhibit what the looker "emits"). And then have some observers stare really hard at the person inside. Ask the person inside who is looking and where it is coming from. I would be surprised if the correct answers were higher than what statistics would predict.

Maybe the "Mythbusters" would run such an experiment.
 

Offline graham.d

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How do we tell we're being watched without looking?
« Reply #6 on: 07/08/2009 14:39:58 »
LeeE, I expect the difference between the 180 degrees and the 220 degrees is that you are allowing the eyes to be moved (+/-110 deg with respect to your head position) whereas wiki is assuming that the eyes are fixed (+/-90 degrees with respect to your line of vision). It seems about right in the precise experiment I just did waggling a pencil about :-)
 

Offline LeeE

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How do we tell we're being watched without looking?
« Reply #7 on: 07/08/2009 15:29:25 »
Well, I can certainly see things behind the plane of my eyes, being careful not to move them, and about 220 deg seems about right to me, but I'm just sure I've read it in a reference work somewhere too.  Our vertical axis is quite a bit less than 180 deg though, so perhaps they're using a display screen type diagonal measurement, or an average?
 

Offline graham.d

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How do we tell we're being watched without looking?
« Reply #8 on: 07/08/2009 20:19:32 »
Lee, if you think of the physiology and the size of the eye and lens and where the retina is, you will see that it is not really possible to see much (if anything) behind the plane of the surface of the eye's lens. Maybe you have an ability to squint outwards or unless, of course, you are Neilep in disguise and are actually a sheep.
 

Offline LeeE

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How do we tell we're being watched without looking?
« Reply #9 on: 08/08/2009 18:09:15 »
Heh - I'm definitely not sheepy.

I can't find any references to back up that 220 deg figure - they all seem to agree on a 180 deg binocular field of view.  The only thing I can think of is whenever I've tried testing it in myself, it's been in low-light level conditions, so it's just possible that because my irises have opened very wide they're exposing a more curved part of the lens.

Exercising my peripheral vision is something I do actively, so it's something I'm consciously aware of, but I have to admit that explanation seems pretty flimsy.
 

lyner

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How do we tell we're being watched without looking?
« Reply #10 on: 08/08/2009 19:32:06 »
With these question you need to bear in mind that your conscious mind is regularly fooled by the rest of your brain into thinking it 1. Is in charge and 2. remembers what actually happened. There is no way of knowing how much you turned your head in the last few seconds, just before that 'significant event' which was actually over before you were conscious of it.
 

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How do we tell we're being watched without looking?
« Reply #10 on: 08/08/2009 19:32:06 »

 

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