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The psychic staring effect (or sometimes called scopaesthesia) is a non-visual detection of staring. Throughout history, it has been believed by many to be an ability or a sense. The idea that people can feel that they are being stared at has been studied heavily, by many different researchers, with different results.[1][2][3]

Overview and anecdotal evidence[edit | edit source]

Staring is a prolonged gaze or fixed look. In staring, one object or person is the continual focus of visual interest, for an amount of time. Staring can be interpreted as being either hostile, or the result of intense concentration or affection.

Rupert Sheldrake the researcher most closely associated with this phenomenon, writes in his controversial[2] book The Sense Of Being Stared At:

Can people tell when they are being stared at from behind? As soon as we ask this question, we realize that there is a great deal of anecdotal evidence suggesting that this is the case. Many people have had the experience of feeling that they are being looked at, and on turning around find that they really are. Conversely, many people have stared at other people's backs, for example in a lecture theater, and watched them become restless and then turn round.

This phenomenon has been studied formally in a number of different ways. Although results vary greatly, it is claimed by Rupert Sheldrake, and normally granted by his critics, that the historical body of research reveals that people are generally able to predict whether they are being stared at with 55% success, except when controls for experimenter bias are included as part of the experiment. This is 5% above probability. Whether 5% is statistically relevant is discussed heavily in the Journal of Consciousness Studies issue on this subject.[4]

Experimental methods[edit | edit source]

The sense of being stared at has been studied through telescopes, through mirrors, through video cameras, with animals, with twins, with schizophrenics, and with different feelings toward the person being stared at. The phenomenon has been studied using a direct Galvanic skin meter, instead of asking for a decision.

Some of the experimental procedures are criticized in that they allow for the possibility that the participants may pick up on a subtle sensory clues, much like the story of clever Hans.

The dilemma in creating a procedure to test this phenomenon is in that the more strictly scientific the procedure is, the less natural this situation is for the participants. Sheldrake has expressed concern that controlled laboratory experiments may not properly cater to the sensitivities of staring detection. The alternative,'real life experiments', possess less scientific merit.

In one experiment, Sheldrake and his peers sat behind an audience during a quiz show at the BBC, out of sight of the audience. They spent some time staring at the audience, and some time not staring at the audience, and recorded when this occurred. Afterwards they gave a videotape of the audience to a third party to count the number of times people in the audience glanced backward. The number of backward glances during the staring times was significantly higher than during the non-staring time.[5][6]

Investigations and results through history[edit | edit source]

Coover[edit | edit source]

A 1913 study by E.Coover found positives only 50.2 percent of the time. He concluded that although the feeling of being stared at is common, and seems apparent, upon scientific examination it is revealed to be "groundless".[1]

Poortman[edit | edit source]

J. J. Poortman modified Coover's research methods twenty years later in 1939. Instead of using strangers, he used a friend, a woman, and he himself was able to determine if she was staring at him to a statistically relevant positive percentage.

Titchener[edit | edit source]

The psychologist Edward B. Titchener reported the phenomenon over a century ago, and in a series of laboratory experiments found only negative results.[7] The idea that "unseen" staring can be detected has been supported in some of the subsequent research with incidence rates as high as 68-86% (Coover 1913), 74% (Williams 1983), and 92% (Braud, Shafer, and Andrews 1993a). Other researchers have found results corresponding to chance.

Titchener attributed the cause of the feeling of being stared at to the stare-e, not the starer, and so the attribution of causality to the starer is false, a misinterpretation (Colwell, Schroder, and Sladen 2000).

80's[edit | edit source]

In 1978 Donald Petersen modified the experimental procedure using one way glass. His results were also significantly above probability.

In 1983, Linda Williams repeated the experiment using a closed circuit television.

In 1995, the NEA Mao experiment officially tested a large number of people with a computer program designed to discover whether the participants "had eyes in the backs of their heads".

Closed circuit televisions were used in studies in the 80's, both measuring their belief of being stared at, and the physiological responses when actually being stared at. They returned results barely higher than 50%.[1]

Rupert Sheldrake[edit | edit source]

Sheldrake outlines the idea of the extended mind, in which vision "reaches out from the body".[1]

If our minds reach out and "touch" what we are looking at, then we may affect what we look at, just by looking at it. If we look at another person, for example, we may affect him or her by doing so.

A large study by Sheldrake into staring found a hit rate of 53.1%. However, he had a surprising result of having two subjects "nearly always right, scoring way above chance levels".[1] One, a young woman in Amsterdam, had practiced the ability as a child. The other, a young man in California, was under the influence of ecstasy at the time of the experiment. Sheldrake has since designed an online staring test[1] to find more people that have the same performance for formal experiments.

His research in this field was featured in the Journal of Consciousness Studies,[4] in which Sheldrake summarizes his case for the non-visual detection of staring and his claims are scrutinized by 14 distinguished researchers, to whose commentaries Sheldrake then responds.

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 Rupert Sheldrake, Papers on The Sense of Being Stared At. Accessed 2008-05-28.
  2. 2.0 2.1 David F. Marks and John Colwell (2000). The Psychic Staring Effect: An Artifact of Pseudo Randomization. Skeptical Inquirer, 9/1/2000. Reprint. Accessed 2008-05-28.
  3. Lobach, E., Bierman, D. (2004). The Invisible Gaze: Three Attempts to Replicate Sheldrake's Staring Effects. (PDF) Proceedings of the 47th PA Convention. URL accessed on 2007-07-30.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Rupert Sheldrake (2005). The Sense of Being Stared At, and open peer commentary. Journal of Consciousness Studies, 12:6, 4-126. Ref.. Accessed 2008-05-28.
  5. Sheldrake, Rupert (2005). The Sense of Being Stared At Part 1: Is it Real or Illusory? Journal of Consciousness Studies, 12(6):10-31. Reprint. See Tests under ‘real life’ conditions, pp. 21-22.
  6. Sheldrake, Rupert (2003). The Sense of Being Stared At, And Other Aspects of the Extended Mind, London: Hutchinson. ISBN 0091794633.
  7. [1] Titchener, E. B. "The 'feeling of being stared at.'" Science, 1898, New series Volume 8, pages 895-897. Retrieved 28 February 2009

External links[edit | edit source]

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