Science Proves the ‘Sixth Sense’ That Lets Us Know When We’re Being Watched

Male Driver Photographing

Male Driver Photographing | iStock.com/AndreyPopov

We all know the feeling that we’re being watched. It’s a hard thing to explain or describe, but it’s an uneasy or creepy feeling we experience when we feel (but don’t know) that someone’s encroaching on our privacy. It’s been called a “sixth sense” or even “ESP” in an effort to explain it, but those pseudoscientific terms tend to diminish just how legit this feeling is.

Fortunately, we don’t need to resort to fanciful descriptions to explain why we feel people looking at us, even when we haven’t seen them. It’s a trait called “gaze detection,” and scientists believe that it’s hardwired into our brains pretty much from birth. In essence, our body has an imperceptible (but very heightened) ability to tell when people are looking at us.

This stems from the days of early man, when the ability to sniff out a person or animal’s gaze was the difference between going home that night or turning into some creature’s lunch.

It’s that exact trait that now lets us know when a creep is ogling us from the other side of the room, or even if there’s a friend somewhere looking for us.

The ability to pick up on another person’s stare is as old as we are.

newborn baby girl looking with big beautiful hazel brown eyes

newborn baby girl looking with big beautiful hazel brown eyes | iStock.com/Bodler

When we’re a young as a few days old, we react to people looking at us. Of course, we have no idea what we’re doing as newborns, but this study shows that our fixation on people watching us exists from the moment we enter the world, suggesting that it’s not something we learn, but something we’re hardwired for.

In fact, not only are our brains on the lookout for the gaze of others, but our eyes are built to recognize it as well. In fact, our eyes are different from almost every other species in their ability to not only sense objects, but to give off signs of where we’re looking. Since so much of the outside of our eyes are white, it takes only a fleeting glance to determine if someone is looking AT you or looking elsewhere.

Womans eye with futuristic digital data

Womans eye with futuristic digital data | iStock.com/BrianAJackson

It happens so quickly, actually, that we don’t even know it happened. When we dart our eyes around a train station, perhaps, we’re not categorizing every person in there, but our brain is making notes of where people’s heads are pointed and which direction they’re facing. All of this data is synthesized and analyzed subconsciously. Since we’re not aware of what’s being assessed, when our brain tells us that a person’s looking at us, we’re on alert (hence that “creepy” feeling), but unaware of where it’s specifically coming from.

The good news is that the unease we feel is enough to get us conscious of the onlooker and to proactively go on the hunt for them.

But what about the people who can feel someone watching them from behind them? Are they for real?

Young man, outdoor in winter

Young man, outdoor in winter | iStock.com/Zmaj88

Some people get a general feeling that someone’s watching them even if they haven’t scanned a room or turned around. Do those people have an ability to “feel” a person’s gaze or stare?

Unfortunately, no. Though that feeling might be the same, those who haven’t scanned a room or “feel” a stare come from a direction they’re not facing, it’s referred to as unconscious bias, but for our purposes, we can just call it a “guess.” When you think someone’s watching you, you’re going to look around and convince yourself that someone IS watching you. Whether or not it’s true.

So while the ability to sense a stare from a completely unseen area is a fiction, when we glance around a room, our eyes and brain do such a good job getting us info that we actually manage to surprise ourselves, which results in the feeling, but not the evidence, that you’re being watched.