PSYCHIC SENSE – Featuring: Sense of Being Stared

Inner and Outer Senses – Psychic Senses

We experience both outer and inner senses – from the 5 outer or physical senses of sight, sound smell, taste and touch to, at times, a sixth or psychic sense.  I am to begin [in my podcast] with a post I penned, originally entitled Making Some Sense out of our Senses and then make a wide circle around the topic of the feeling or sense of being stared at – exploring why science would go from ruminations to examinations of such a phenomena which was at that time considered to be a supernatural phenomenon and then if all goes well I will conclude with a contemporary theory regarding the feeling of being stared or if you will, being able to detect being stared at, also known as scopaesthesia.

I have listened to a number of podcasts, and found that some guests, especially those featured on paranormal/supernatural casts, mentioned having experienced a feeling of being stared at, which can be unnerving, especially when it occurs outside one’s field of vision.

The Sense or Feeling of Being Stared At

Have you ever been in a public place, perhaps an airport, library or maybe standing in line, scrolling through your phone, reading a book…and 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 at.

You look over or up, just in time to see the others’ 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. 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 suggestthat a “complex neural network” is behind the “gaze detection”. But what is going on when we feel an unseen gaze, perhaps from behind?

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.

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 recall thinking along the lines of “this phantom of sorts, 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, I mean why would I have thought of that, as I said I had taken that route to the Metro 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 towards the right door – both doors were those full length glass revolving doors. I thought, what if I get trapped in them, but they were the only doors available then.

I pushed through and entered the inside of the building – relieved, but I had not crashed into calmness yet. No sooner did I have that sensation,

when a hand

came from around the back of me

covered my mouth

and I was forced backwards.

I have listened to a number of podcasts, and found that some guests, especially those featured on paranormal/supernatural casts, mentioned having experienced a feeling of being stared at, which can be unnerving, especially when it occurs outside one’s field of vision.

I think it’s safe to say that most of us have experienced that feeling and according to Harriet Dempsey-Jones “…up to 94% of people report that they have experienced the feeling of eyes upon them and turned around to find out they were indeed being watched”

As I mentioned earlier there are different scenarios that can result in and contribute to the feeling of being stared at. As an example; being in an environment where there are people all around us or across from us, next to us or perhaps knowingly behind us.

The idea that one could feel the stare of another was explored in an article by the English psychologist Edward Brandford Titchener on December 23rd 1898 in a publication called Science, entitled The Feeling of Being Stared at, the article in full is available here The Feeling of Being stared At ( which manifested after students in his junior classes reported being able to “feel” when somebody was looking at them, even though they could not see this person.

Before I summarize Titchener’s experiment it may be helpful to examine why a psychologist would align himself to explore such a phenomenon, an exploration that would surely be deemed today as pseudoscience.

In the 1800’s science was still in its’ infancy but was making rapid advancements. Because the advances in science and technology were so rapid, the natural and the supernatural worlds often became blurred in popular thinking, and according to an article entitled The Victorians supernatural by Roger Luckhurst “every scientific and technological advance[meant] encouraged a kind of magical thinking and was accompanied by a shadow discourse of the occult” The occult in this case, is entwined by esoteric beliefs of the supernatural kind.

On one hand – religious establishments were becoming overshadowed by scientific elucidations, most notably Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection, and on the other hand, it was also, according to Luckhurst “…a golden age of belief in supernatural forces and energies, ghost stories, weird transmissions and spooky phenomena.

Sounds like my kind of era!

Some of these supernatural forces started with Mesmerism, think of it as a combination of hypnotherapy mixed with Reiki, which began in the 1830. And then there was spiritualism which tried to foster communication with spirit by the use of certain tools such as the planchette, Table turning or tipping, talking boards, medium-ship etc.

From the tap, tap tapping of … the telegraph to the turning of the phonograph and then gramophones, those types of media acted as a medium conveying messages in a seemingly ghostly fashion. Many early telecommunications technologies were created by scientist who partook in spirit investigations, such as – Edison’s light bulb moment when he declared he was working on a telephone that would connect with spirits.

Wilhelm Conrad Roentgen looking into an X-ray screen placed in front of a man’s body and seeing the ribs and the bones of the arm.via Wikimedia Commons

Some technologies like plate photograph and x-rays allowed the invisible to become visible and were utilized to capture and keep the essence of a loved one – be they dead or alive. How much more ghostly could it get? Such scientific inventions only affirmed, for many, their belief in the occult.

Such devices became popular, not merely due to their transformative powers but because of their interactive, instantaneous qualities. A good example of this was the x-ray or perhaps more accurately the fluoroscope, which caused quite the craze.

Demonstrations were given at lectures and public exhibitions, audience members where chosen to have, as an example their hands or hand bags X-rayed, but honestly why go out when one could buy or build their own X-ray apparatus for personal use. And so they did, one can only imagine the types of items that may have been explored in the privacy of one’s home OR not. Unfortunately, in the end it was to become a bone jarring experience due to the effects of radiation.

It’s fair to say that a battle royal of sorts began to brew between religion, science, the natural and supernatural worlds, which drove some early scientists to enlist their craft to debunk the popular supernatural phenomena of the day while others used the their art in hopes of bringing a legitimacy to such phenomena.

From the Dictaphone that was used to record speech of both the living and the dead to flash photography which shed some light, at times, as to what was really happening in darkened séance rooms. Naturalist’s Alfred Russel Wallace’s assertions that spiritualism was a legitimate topic up for scientific investigation. Perhaps “thought reading” transpired between Wallace and physicist – Sir William Fletcher Barrett because in 1882 Barrett co-founded a scientific organization called the Society for Psychical Research dedicated to paranormal investigations.

Let’s circle back now to the psychologist Titchener and his experiment relating to the feeling of being stared at.

Titchener is said to have conducted a string of lab experiments that consisted of students, students who had, prior to the experiment, already declared themselves to be either susceptible to the stare or capable of making people turn around if they were to stare at the other’s back.

Titchener, according to a Professor Adam Waytz,”proceeds to describe the phenomenon as a self-fulfilling prophecy whereby an individual in the front of a populated room, believing him/herself to be watched, begins fidgeting, thereby attracting attention from the people in the back of the room”.

According to the Rupert Sheldrake, scientist and author of The Sense of Being Stared At, states that Titchener did not published quantitative data, nor had he given details of his experimental methods. He merely announced that his results confirmed his negative expectations. In other-words, the feeling had nothing to do with a 6th sense, but rather circles around the anxiety we have about our back.

Titchener’s own conclusions, is as follows “I may state that I have tested this interpretation of the ‘feeling of being stared at,’ at various times, in series of laboratory experiments conducted with persons who declared themselves either peculiarly susceptible to the stare… [and] that the experiments have invariably given a negative result…” Titchener summarizes by stating that “No scientifically-minded psychologist believes in telepathy”.

It seems to me that his observations and conclusion could be summed up with this bit of advice; stay calm, carry on and keep your back to the wall.

Titchener’s observations about the feeling seems to me to be describing something akin to a tendency to exaggerate the extent to which others notice our appearance and/or behaviours, now referred to as the spotlight effect. In other words it feels like the spotlight is on us, illuminating our essence, for seemingly everyone to see, even if the bulbs are burnt and everyone has left the building.

Let us now move on to one of Titchener’s contemporaries.

For the rest of the story please listen to my cast.


A Supernatural Scammer In Getty’s Collection

Big Think

Why is it you can sense when someone’s staring at you? – Big Think

British Library: Romantics & Victorians

The Victorian supernatural | The British Library ( Luckhurst Rodger, May 2014


How To Think About Science, Part 1 – 24 (Listen) | Ideas with Paul Kennedy | CBC Radio


You’re not psychic and no one is looking at you | The Outline by Owen PhillipsDEC—29—2016 09:56AM EST

Harriet Dempsey-JonesUniversity of Oxford


The X-ray Craze of 1896 – JSTOR Daily

Literary Hub

When Mystics and Mediums Convinced Scientists the Paranormal Was Normal ‹ Literary Hub ( Matt Tomkins May 2019

When Mystics and Mediums Convinced Scientists the Paranormal Was Normal ‹ Literary Hub (

National Library of Medicine

Visual cells in the temporal cortex sensitive to face view and gaze direction – PubMed (

Science Media Musuem

The Spotlight Effect and Social Anxiety (

Literary Hub

When Mystics and Mediums Convinced Scientists the Paranormal Was Normal ‹ Literary Hub ( Matt Tomkins May 2019


Word Root: sent (Root) | Membean

National Library of Medicine

Visual cells in the temporal cortex sensitive to face view and gaze direction – PubMed (

Nuffield Department of Neuroscience

A sixth sense? How we can tell that eyes are watching us — Nuffield Department of Clinical Neurosciences ( Sep-20-2016


(PDF) The “Sense of Being Stared At” Confirmed by Simple Experiments ( Rupert Sheldrake, January, 2005

Science Media Museum

Spirit photography and the occult: Making the invisible visible | National Science and Media Museum

Science Media Museum

Telecommunications and the occult | National Science and Media Museum

Scientific American

The Feeling of Being Stared At – Scientific American Blog Network By Adam Waytz on December 17, 2013

Scopaesthesia and its Implications – YouTube

Feeling of Being Stared at”: Experimental ( PDF In 2013, Colin

The Feeling of Being stared At (

“The Feeling of Being Stared at”: Experimental Author(s): J. E. Coover Source: The American Journal of Psychology , Oct., 1913

The Man Who Photographed Ghosts

A Supernatural Scammer In Getty’s Collection

The Victorian supernatural | The British Library ( Luckhurst 15 May 2014

UW Medicine, Department of Radiology

Featured History: Fluoroscopy – UW Radiology (

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