Parapsychology: can someone tell when someone is watching them?

According to parapsychologists, a commonly reported form of distant mental influence on human beings is “the feeling of being stared at,” which is closely related, historically, to the notion of the “evil eye.” Considerable folklore endorses the idea that gazing at someone carries special powers, favors, or influence. Folklore aside, contemporary opinion polls confirm that the feeling of being stared at is known in all cultures (Radin 1997).

According to some parapsychologists it not only can but does, and they insist that it has been confirmed in several laboratory studies, (e.g., Braud, Shafer, and Andrews 1993a; Braud, Shafer, and Andrews 1993b; Schlitz and LaBerge 1994 and 1997; and Peterson 1978). Wiseman, on the other hand, in a series of studies (Wiseman and Smith 1994; Wiseman, Smith, Freedman, Wasserman, and Hurst 1995) as well as a study carried out with Schlitz (Wiseman and Schlitz 1997) found no evidence of psychic functioning. In fact, psi (extrasensory perception) proponents are the only ones who seem to obtain evidence for psi while skeptics do not and, as Wiseman notes (Wiseman and Schlitz 1997), this fact may provide strong support for “the experimenter effect” (Palmer 1989), i.e., the experimenter somehow controls the outcome of the study. Such an effect, however, would be as mysterious-if not more so-than the alleged “staring effect” itself. In another context Wiseman (1999) suggests that the positive results might well represent a “file drawer” effect, i.e., people who failed to obtain impressive positive results simply filed the study away and didn’t bother to report it. Nevertheless, Blackmore, who is a severe critic of parapsychology in general (Blackmore 1996), has stated that most contemporary parapsychologists believe this phenomena to be true and offer it as valid proof of psi.

This ability is largely believed to be an evolutionary trait buried deep in our subconscious. If something’s looking at us, it may be a threat and so can be perceived easily. Studies that record the activity of single brain cells find that particular cells fire when someone is staring right at you, but—amazingly—not when the observer’s gaze is averted just a few degrees to the left or right of you (then different cells fire instead).


Baker (2000)

Shrira (2011)


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