What if someone is always staring at you

What really happens when someone stares at you

Source: PabloBenii / shutterstock

When stared at, many people feel very uncomfortable and look away. This response to the apparent visual dominance of another person has long been attributed to how evolution led us to respond to threats and how much we as a species have become accustomed to inferring our place in a perceived social hierarchy : If someone stares at us and we feel uncomfortable, we can conclude at the gut level that we are of a lower status.

But when we're ready to feel more powerfulDoes the undiminished gaze of another person have the same effect on our sense of status and how uncomfortable do we feel at the moment? A team of researchers led by Mario Weick of Kents School of Psychology investigated whether feelings of power changed people's reactions to phenomena of dominance such as staring.

In the first study, 80 people (34 women, 44 men) were recruited into a laboratory and randomly divided into groups with low, neutral and high performance. The members of the low-power group were instructed to write about a past event that made them feel disempowered. The members of the neutral group were instructed to write about an event that did not significantly affect their sense of power. and those in the high-performance group were directed to write about a past event that made them feel powerful.

All participants were then equipped with a virtual reality headset in a large room and asked to approach and walk around a virtual target. Participants performed this activity twice. In one trial, the target looked like a robot; in the other, the target looked like a human.

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Weick et al. found that participants who wrote about a past experience where they felt powerful were more likely to approach goals that were staring at them directly. This was in contrast to participants who wrote about past experiences who were neutral or felt disempowered. Interestingly, these differences only occurred when the target the participants stared at looked like a human - indicating to the researchers, "that social motives may underpin the effects of power. In particular, the different responses to the human target may be triggered by an implicit one desire to signal hierarchical relationships to conspecifics. This pattern of results is in line with the finding of Hietanen and colleagues (2008) that gaze-induced approach and avoidance tendencies are stronger for stimuli with a high degree of realism. "

"Crucial", Weick et al. explain in an upcoming issue ofPersonality and Social Psychology Bulletin"During the trials, the two targets also showed different gaze behaviors and either made a head movement that turned towards the participants and stared at them persistently, or they did not move and looked ahead, thereby ignoring the participants during the game." Movement task (anticipatory). Under both viewing conditions, the virtual characters had their eyes open, blinked from time to time and made small movements in idle mode (humanoid) or rotation (robot). "

Willingness to feel stronger, more neutral, or less powerful did not affect how participants approached human- or robot-like goals Not Maintain eye contact or look directly at them.

In a second study, Weick et al. repeated the previous results but added some new flourishes: in addition to staring at the participants, the robots and human-like targets looked away from them. The goals were also presented as male or female in different studies and differed in size, so that the participants perceived themselves as larger or smaller than the goals.

This time 103 students took part in the study (76 women, 24 men). Of these participants, those who perceived goals as physically shorter were more likely to approach them - even (andespecially) when the targets made strong eye contact. However, the gender of the target (as well as the gender of the participants) did not affect whether participants approached the goals or avoided approaching them when navigating around them.

Weick et al. argued that altitude is another communicator of status, with shorter targets appearing less threatening and perhaps even more inviting when eye contact is made. This isn't the first time height has influenced whether people approach or avoid a person based on that person's stature. A classic study carried out in the early 1980s positions two people at opposite ends of a local train. One was short; the other big. The researchers who conducted this study found that passers-by were much more likely to approach the smaller person than the taller one.

The virtual reality study by Weick et al. Nor is she the first to find out how strong we feel, how we react to others. In 2014, researchers from the University of California at San Diego studied how perceptions of high or low status changed in how quickly people returned smiles from others. They found that people who were in positions of high power were more likely to smile back at people who felt they were positions of low power, rather than those who felt them to be positions of high power. Meanwhile, people who felt themselves in low-performing positions were more likely to smile back when they smiled at them, regardless of the assumed status of that initial smile.

Smile back on a person of lower status, but not on a person of higher status.ifAssuming that you are powerful, you might limit yourself to feeling intimidated by a high-ranking colleague. Those in positions of power may feel that they have a hard time grasping their status in the presence of others who may be dismissing or displacing them. Not smiling at those they feel are equals or potentially more powerful could be a way to assert yourself and effectively show a tough face in order to continue to assert their dominance and assert their position. Smiles at those who they believe are of lower status can arise when they view the lower status individual as non-threatening, meaning that there is no way they can take the more powerful person off and therefore no dominance Must be shown in the form, not to smile.

On the flip side, the fact that those of lower status are returning smiles from just about everyone might indicate that these individuals are are not They are concerned about running out of power because they don't even have one. So there isn't that much to worry about. Or perhaps a universal smile is a strategy used by a person of lower status in order to gain favor with those of higher status. A smile can also be a way to let people of higher status know that a person of lower status is not a threat and therefore does not deserve to be on the receiving end of that person for punishment or other negative behavior - acts that a person of higher status engages in Status can be involved in order to regain dominance over those whom it perceives as competitors.

A smile is as opposed to a persistent gaze as the former is typically a sign of kindness, warmth, and comfort, and the latter is often a sign of dominance or power. (There are exceptions, such as staring a lover in the eye, but a look usually indicates - and is perceived as - aggression, toughness, or creepiness.) While we may feel strong, it may be less likely be returning the smile of someone who we are. Fear can pull us out of our superior position in a social hierarchy and return the gaze of someone staring at you - or in the case of the Weick et al. go straight ahead without avoiding it - Prove your status no matter how intimidating that other might look to someone else. Approaching means not showing fear.

Perhaps a future study should investigate whether high-performing individuals who were more inclined to walk toward a target that was staring at them would not smile if that target also smiled at them while staring. Such a study could also investigate whether a participant in a low-performing position staring at a smiling, higher-performing target could avoid that target but smile respectfully as they walk away.

What we can take away This The study says that how high or low we feel in the social hierarchy can be a powerful explanation for why we behave in certain ways with respect to supervisors, equals, or people in positions of lesser power. Watch those you avoid, approach, smile back, or don't smile back for the next few days and ask yourself: Where do I see myself in relation to this other one? If you are being intimidated by others too often, you may want to recall a memory of feeling extremely powerful and see if it helps you be less likely to bypass a powerful boss or coworker shortly thereafter. (Just don't blame us if you're criticized for not smiling enough!)

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