A Sense Of Being Watched Is Hardwired Into Our Brains, Say Researchers

brain sense of being watchedIf when in doubt, we tend to feel that eyes must be upon us, could this help explain much of our behavior? From belief in a god staring down at us, to paranoid fantasies, to reluctance to break social norms even when no one is actually paying attention? Via the Telegraph:

The feeling that others are watching us is an evolutionary mechanism designed to keep us alert, experts said.

Prof. Colin Clifford, a University of Sydney psychologist who led the research, explained: “A direct gaze can signal dominance or a threat, and if you perceive something as a threat you would not want to miss it. Simply assuming another person is looking at you may be the safest strategy.”

The researchers asked volunteers to determine in which direction a series of faces were looking. Even without being able to clearly see where the eyes were focused, the participants felt as if they were being watched.



  • BuzzCoastin

    CCTV cameras everywhere
    rectal probes at the airport
    cops everywhere you look
    NSA tirelessly sift through your emails
    tax audits, credit score, drivers license, school records

    you’re obviously paranoid to assume someone is watching you

  • Rhoid Rager

    An evolutionary adaptation? Just another unscientific ‘just-so’ story. What nonsense! Rupert Sheldrake has been researching this phenomenon for years, but not necessarily as an adaptation but an ontological epiphenomena of the extended mind. .

    • bobbiethejean

      So you’ll take the magical explanation over the explanation that actually has a grounding in reality and fact? Why? Why believe what essentially amounts to “magic” over the fact that it is evolutionarily advantageous to be alert?

      • Lewis O’Donnell

        It makes a good story! 😉

      • Rhoid Rager

        You’re just trying to get a rise out of me with. 😉 But, honestly, consider what ‘alert’ actually means. A heighten sense of perception? But what senses could we possibly be using in this state? That’s where the real ‘magic’ comes in, doesn’t it? Trying to select among our five known and confirmed senses to determine which one actually perceives the gaze of another. But also, isn’t gazing a passive phenomenon according to dogmatic materialist science? To say that a gaze can be perceived would be to go against this, wouldn’t it? Unless, of course, you’re considering the Measurement Problem of quantum physics, but that seems unrelated to this, right?

        Your fact of evolutionary adaptation is actually where the true magic seems to appear here, because researchers who have no idea what happened in the past are guessing about it and passing those guesses off as suitable explanations. That’s where the ‘just-so’ stories come into play. And, you should know by now that I’m not talking out the side of my mouth about this. I’m not sure if I’ve recommended this book before, but you really ought to read Philip Kitcher’s Vaulting Ambition: Sociobiology and the Quest for Human Nature. That book earned the Imre Lakatos Award–Lakatos was a Hungarian philosopher of science whose teachings still resonate today in science. Reading Kitcher’s work is a solid introduction into the philosophy of science; and, science needs philosophy behind its epistemology. That’s a concept that the materialist dogmatics, like Dawkins, can’t seem to come to terms with.

        • bobbiethejean

          Humanity is doomed.

          • Rhoid Rager

            Only the ones that treat money as an edible commodity. lol!

        • Andrew

          > But what senses could we possibly be using in this state?

          The mindfulness which was beaten and berated out of us in childhood.

    • Calypso_1

      How would this experiment correlate to an epiphenomena of the extended mind?

      The subjects are not actually responding to being observed. They themselves are observing a constructed representation that establishes their filling in incomplete data with a higher probability of observation than is actually present in the construct.

      There is nothing in the phenomenon as presented in this experiment to suggest direct mental influence or sensory awareness of such from an outside agency but rather interpretation of visual clues related to facial and ocular orientation.

      You could redo the experiment with actual people instead of pictures
      & add the variable that the subjects were asked to ‘watch/not watch’ regardless of their spatial orientation to the participants.
      If this yielded different results than you still have other factors such
      as microexpression to account for. I would want EEG and EMG on the watchers to see if choosing to ‘watch’ somebody caused subtle changes in expression before attributing this to an extension of mind. You could knock out the expression with an anesthetic agent if it existed and repeat the experiment.

      • Rhoid Rager

        That sounds like a strong methodology. But, it’s amazing what problems pop up when experiments are run. Figuring out problems with experiments seems to be a highly underappreciated major facet of science. Theorists get all the glory, but pure genius shines through when applied to experimental technique. Rutherford was an amazing, yet gruff experimentalist who had little interest in the abstracts of theory, I’ve read.

        But, that’s all beside the point. You called me out. I did not realize that the experiment here consisted of exposing people to fake eyes. In that sense, it doesn’t relate directly to Sheldrake’s experiments; however, if one were to think hard enough, I’m sure a Sheldrakian explanation of the extended mind could be applied. I should read more carefully before I start typing in the comments section. :S

  • The Well Dressed Man

    watchin you watchin you watchin you-oo-ooo-ooo-oooo-ooo-oo-oo

  • Alan Morse Davies


    As a paranoid child I thought my teachers were watching me get out of bed and get dressed from the corner of the room, I was sent to a psychologist.

    I however would agree that placing trust in surveillance rather that communication with citizens is fucked and very short-sighted.

    I am no longer paranoid.

    I don’t believe that there are super-smart people analyzing every video feed. There is a low-paid guy who has hours of nothing happening and probably doesn’t care.

    Is there some hard-wiredness to the sense of being watched?

    So fucking what?

    This seems to be not a useful apparently empirical truth, but we’ve had those before that have proved useful.

    Maybe this research will unlock faith…

    Maybe the question is… if you view a video and regard it as true and submit that evidence in court, yet you also believe in an invisible friend in the sky (that maybe prefers you over some others because you’re more worthy but mostly hates minorities (and women)… is the evidence submissible?

    Where does magic end?

    • Calypso_1

      Hopefully there was no remote viewer perve teacher involved.
      You didn’t go to a DOD school did you?