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November 18, 2009 6:29 PM   Subscribe

In the very beginning of Project Grizzly, Troy James Hurtubise talks about how he "could feel a presence that was looking straight at me." Feeling that someone is looking at you seems to be a pretty common human experience, although it's usually a person, not a bear. Is there any documentation about this experience, or research into in its source?

(or maybe it's just me?)
posted by Pants! to Science & Nature (9 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I remember reading about a study that demonstrated that everyone (that wasn't cheating) that felt 'a look' was just wrong. That is slightly worse than random. Sorry don't have a reference.
posted by sammyo at 7:47 PM on November 18, 2009

I am pretty sure that I too have read the results of a proper double blind study in where people were proven to be unable to tell that someone was looking at them. I'm thinking it might have been in one of Gladwell's books, although I can't think which one.

I think this is just the perfectly normal processing of almost-subliminal information.

A grizzly is not a completely silent beast, and you might hear the ever-so-quiet yet out-of-place rustle. In an open space, you will be able to "hear" the presence of a person or large animal who appears behind you. They will deflect the wind and ambient sound just so. You might catch a whiff of an unusual smell, or subconsciously notice that the birds had gone silent.

I remember reading The Gift Of Fear many years ago. The author talked about how attack victims "had a feeling something was wrong," which they chalked up to being psychic. Upon close questioning, they remembered some little tiny thing that was just slightly out of the ordinary.

The monkey part of our brain notes these things and pulls the fire alarm. It's not woo woo magic stuff. It's just survival.
posted by ErikaB at 7:57 PM on November 18, 2009 [2 favorites]

Or if you're talking about believing an actual person is looking at you: The sense of being stared at.
posted by zamboni at 8:01 PM on November 18, 2009

and the obligatory wikipedia: Psychic staring effect.
posted by zamboni at 8:04 PM on November 18, 2009

Usually when someone stares intently at something, they go very still. Their breathing may slow and their muscles may tense in concentration. Certainly if you were to catch this slight change in their posture and demeanor with your peripheral vision or hearing, you would reflexively look in their direction. Your subconscious drives many of your survival instincts. It is so effective at this that your conscious mind is often unable to keep up. So you may believe that nothing could have triggered your sudden desire to notice you were being stared at, when in fact there were many tiny signs that added up to a feeling of being watched.

As noted above, Gavin de Becker discusses this at length in The Gift of Fear. Predators and fellow humans alike have many "tells", as in poker, that may serve as early warning systems for their prey. Our ancestors survived by perceiving and then heeding those signs.
posted by balls at 8:37 PM on November 18, 2009

Excellent. Thank you.
posted by Pants! at 10:11 PM on November 18, 2009

I've stared at a lot of passers-by from a slightly hidden vantage point on my porch, and they never notice me. This made me doubt the existence of a psychic telepathy staring thing, since I'm just 10 feet away, and if they looked, they would be able to see me, but they never look my way. Once I noticed that they never saw me, I began to experiment by sometimes staring very, very intently, even bugging my eyes out at them, which as we all know intensifies the stare by a considerable factor. They should be able to "feel" me, but they never can, because I'm basically sitting sort-of behind a large bush.

Either the psychic telepathy staring thing is due to more concrete factors than I'd originally thought, or else my porch-bush is basically a giant tinfoil hat.
posted by twistofrhyme at 12:12 AM on November 19, 2009

Richard Wiseman's done research into this - his paper is online
posted by edd at 8:04 AM on November 19, 2009

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