Insight Alert: Yes You Are Being Watched

Erica J. Boothby: “Most of the time, when you’re minding your own business and feeling relatively inconspicuous, you’re being watched much more than you realize. My colleagues and I demonstrated this in several studies … Although people surreptitiously noticed all kinds of details about each other — clothing, personality, mood — we found that people were convinced that the other person wasn’t watching them much, if at all.”

“So other people notice our coffee stains less than we think, but they watch us in general more than we think. The problem, in both cases, is that we project the focus of our attention onto others. Because we’re fixated on our coffee stain (or whatever we happen to be self-conscious about), we assume others must be, too. But when nothing in particular draws our attention to ourselves, we neglect the fact that we may nevertheless be an object of other people’s interest.”

“Assuming other people are focused on the same thing we are is at the root of many kinds of miscommunication … We all have a tendency to egocentrically ascribe our own perspective to others. That doesn’t make us selfish or bad. But it’s worth keeping in mind that everyone’s attention illuminates the world in a particular way, and what gets spotlighted differs from person to person.”

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