The Sense of Being Stared At…


S. Keller

1st Increment

Ever been in a public place, perhaps an airport, library or perhaps standing in line, maybe scrolling through your phone, reading a book…then you “feel” it… that feeling of being stared at or if you prefer to use the root word sense, that sense of being stare.

You look over or up, just in time to see the other’s gaze avert. Almost predictable? Perhaps, especially when you find yourself waiting in a public area in the type of environments where people are doing, for the most part, the same thing that you might be doing and perhaps others are looking around seeing who is… well, looking at them and then, as humans are known to do at times, we fix our gaze on someone else, sometimes seemingly unconsciously, that is until we are met with a stare-back or back-gaze if you will.

This, according to PubMed, is the biological phenomenon known as gaze detection or gaze perception, the feeling that can turn into a confirmation, when we notice the other noticing us. This adaptation, this feeling allowed our ancestors to be, well, our ancestors. According to Owen Phillips, “In 2013, Colin Clifford and his colleagues at the University of Sydney found evidence to suggest we’re hardwired at birth to feel like we’re being observed, a “better-safe-than-sorry rule of thumb” to protect us from potential danger.

If someone turns their gaze off of you by turning just a few degrees to their left or right, then apparently that feeling of being stared at quickly fades. Some Scientists suggest that a “complex neural network” is behind the “gaze detection”. But what is going on when we feel an unseen gaze, perhaps from behind?

2nd Increment

And what about those times when you had the feeling of being stared at but there was nobody there or at least nobody that you could initial see, but you still had a sense, perhaps a sixth sense of being watched.

As an example, let’s say I’m walking down a quiet neighbourhood street at night with Molly, the dog. I feel that someone is looking at me. I stop, while the dog is busy with her own business. I pivot 90 degrees, I look back, across the street and up at a house and there is a neighbour in that house looking out of their second floor window at me. As soon as they see me, seeing them, they step-back and close their curtains.

Or, how about I am walking on that same street, at night, it is very quite and I feel compelled to look up, not sure why, nothing interesting about that spot but I do, I see lights in the sky, in a certain formation. I identify the UFO as a, well, UFO.

One last illustration and I think it’s worth the mention because not only does it example my topic but it acts as a reminder to take heed of your feelings…of your senses.

3rd Increment

One evening, on a quiet side road in Montreal I was heading for the Metro/subway. I was familiar with the area, and with that Metro – it is probably one of the deepest metros in Montreal, at that time anyways. There were many descending flights of escalators before reaching the actual underground subway platform..anyways I had just finished Xmas shopping, although it was not too late, it was dark due to the winter season.

As I made my way towards the underground station I had the sensation that someone was looking at me. I stopped, scanned the one-way street both ways, no one was there. The feeling persisted, I looked around again, that feeling of being stared jump to.. I think someone may harm me!, even though there was no one visible.

I could see the entrance doors of the Metro ahead on my left, and then a thought crossed my brain and as it did I remember thinking a seemingly strange strategy, at least it seemed odd in the moment and I still find a bit perplexing to this day.

And here is what unfolded.

I thought, “this phantom means me harm”, so I pretended to go towards one of the 2 doors but then I quickly went to the other door to get the phantom “off their game”, if you will, which was a weird thought, Like, why would I think like that, as I said I had taken this route to the subway many times before and had never felt creeped out by that area.

Anyways, I did the “maneuver” and I went towards the entrance door to my left and when I was about an arms length away I veered to the right door – both doors were those full length glass revolving doors. I thought, what if I somehow get trapped in them, but they were the only doors available at that time.

I pushed through and entered the inside of the building – relieved, No sooner did I have that sensation, when a hand came from around the back of me to cover my mouth and pull me backwards.


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