Detection Of Staring – Fact Or Fiction

Detection Of Staring – Fact Or Fiction

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When studying the phenomenon of detecting being stared at, there are many factors to consider. Like all other paranormal phenomenon, there has been excruciating research done on this subject, both to prove and to disprove its existence. Rupert Sheldrake, a well known believer in paranormal activity, has demonstrated in a series of experiments positive conclusions that could lead to the conclusion that it is not a mere artifact of pseudo randomization. Robert Baker and David Marks & John Colwell are skeptics, who have conducted similar experiments, who have claimed their results conclude in pseudo randomization.

Does the relative position of the starer make a difference in the ability to detect being stared at? In every experiment conducted by Sheldrake or the others, the starer was always positioned behind the staree. As long as the staree was preoccupied, such as in Robert Baker's experiment, the position of the starer shouldn't effectiveness of the staree's ability to "sense" stares. While maintaining a respectful distance to the subject, would they be able to sense being stared at without seeing that they're being stared at? We've all heard the stories of people locking eyes from across the room, love a first sight. Did one of the "lovers" sense the other from across the room? From personal experience, it seems more likely to get someone to look at you – to feel stared at – if you aren't placed directly being them.

In Baker's experiment, nine of thirty eight subjects could have been distracted or permitted to focus too much on the experiment – am I being stared at, am I not. (Baker, 5) With activities such as eating, drinking, eating, watching television, or working at the computer, subjects can easily become distracted. Meaning, if the sensation of being stared at is not a strong one, the mind could still perceive it.

On the other hand, the 9 subjects who were observed while studying would be less likely to be distracted by a staring sensation (Baker). If it is not a strong sensation, the mind may be too preoccupied to be conscious of it. Therefore, if the staree is not "gifted" in detecting being stared at, a weak sensation during a "mind-consuming" activity, such as studying, could be easily ignored. When one's mind is fully occupied, for example, while studying, maybe the sensation if overshadowed by the mind's preoccupation. Unless this ability had been practiced or developed at some point in one's life then it could easily be ignored or over looked.

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It could be possible that the stare may be overly sensitive to the feeling of being stared at. For example, the two subjects that were discarded from Baker's experiment claimed they were "gifted" or being constantly monitored by the FBI. With their extra "practice", it could be possible that they've developed their ability to sense being stared at, compared to the average person.

Could the ability disappear with age or become less sensitive? The ability to learn to speak and comprehend a foreign language is lost with age. The part of the brain which comprehends sound becomes accustomed to the sounds of the language spoken. Mandarin for example, has certain sounds which may be difficult to comprehend for someone who has been exposed to English their entire life. This is why learning a new language at a later age becomes increasingly difficult. Their brains have been trained to "hear" the sounds familiar to them, and "ignore" the rest.

Could this concept be applied to the ability to detect being stared at? If the ability is not developed at a young age, could it be lost all together.

Animism, from Freud's point of view, played a key role in human development. It was thought to be a passing phase in a child's life. The idea of "omnipotence of thoughts", as described in out lecture notes, is the idea that thought can harm, bring luck or even kill (Humbert, 22). This concept is very similar to that of being able to detect being stared at from behind. If one can harm someone from look alone, they could also detect being stared at. If one doesn't harness this ability while it's still available at a young age, maybe it is lost with development and maturation of the mind.

Some parapsychologists, such as William Roll, believe that children/teenagers are more likely to be subject of ghostly encounters. If they are more susceptible to other forms of paranormal activities, maybe testing a group with an average age 29.5 years old is "too old" to detect stares. (Baker)

A reason, for which children may be able to feel the stares, could be because of their upbringing. Not necessarily their beliefs, but more of a conditioning. When out in public, if the child acts up, the parent may not say anything, but rather give a "warning look" to settle their child. If the child in question is overactive, the ability to sense the "quiet down" stare from behind may become second nature. Becoming familiar with detecting their parents' stares may make them more aware of stares of others.

The connection between twins has been a point of interest for many psychologists, doctors and paranormal enthusiasts for many years now. The unexplainable relation between twins, such as telepathy, the ability to feel each other's pain, sense when the other is in danger, etc…has raised many questions regarding the mind, the soul and personality.

Studies conducted in Irish Schools by Susan and Jennifer Brodigan, brought results where they are concluded that both identical and non-identical twins perform better that non twinned siblings or unrelated children (Sheldrake 2001, 8). This connection to be able to detect stares between twins may have begun in the womb, amongst others. (Sheldrake 2001, 10)

It was also noted that non-identical twins did better than the identical twins (59.3%; 54.4%) (Sheldrake 2001,10). Identical twins, sharing the same DNA, develop in the same way; everything from psychologically to the fingerprints. Since twins developed in the same fashion, their outward thoughts should resemble each others' (Sheldrake 2001, 5)

Does the starer's intention affect the "strength" of the stare? If the starer wants the person to turn around, do they if they can sense the "turn around" stare. What if they just want to make their presence known? This may explain some of the results obtained by Baker (Baker, 3). In his experiment, 3 subjects, unaware they were being stared at, felt something was wrong, rearranged yet were unable to say where Baker was sitting. Just like the skeptical sub-conscious/conscious concept, could he have affected the results? On the other hand, when people sense an earthquake, they don't know where it came from; they just know it's there.

In normal conditions, a concentrate stare may just be a vacant unfocused gaze. During this gaze, the starer may just focus, unaware on the back of someone's head. Say the stare does turn around, though not the intention of the starer, is there a difference? Is there a difference between intentional (skeptical vs. non-skeptical) and subconscious staring?

The time spent starting at the back of someone's head could play a factor. Sheldrake (Sheldrake 2001, 5) spent on average 10 seconds – 30 at most – staring at the stare. Whereas, Baker spend one minute staring at the subject (Baker, 4). The possible reason Baker obtained a lower positive result could be that the extended amount of staring time may have just confused the subject. The 10-30 seconds allocated by Sheldrake may not have been enough. Possibly a slightly longer period of staring could have given a higher positive result. Maybe a way to "re-prove" their theories, they could try to vary their staring times.

Another possible reason for it to be overlooked is personal belief. If someone doesn't believe in the ability to detect the stares, it could be more difficult to be the starer and have someone turn around or to be the stare and detect being stared at. According to Sheldrake, the reason Wiseman's experiment didn't give the significant results he was look for was, perhaps, his ineffectiveness as a starer (Sheldrake 2000, 4). This could be the link between his skeptic beliefs and the non-significant results. Whether he subconsciously or consciously wanted negative results, his skepticism may have been influenced the way he stared at his subjects (Baker, 6).

In conclusion, Rupert Sheldrake, Robert Baker and David Marks all present adequate arguments. Although it does seem that skeptics obtain negative results, whereas believers obtain positive ones. Each set of beliefs seem to be reflected in the research results. Sheldrake a believer, obtained a legitimate paranormal activity result. On the other hand, Marks & Colwell, skeptics, obtained positive results but suggested they are results of learning and not a paranormal phenomenon (Marks & Colwell, 3)

If the subjects are really "learning" from previous attempts, it doesn't quite explain how they can determine a pattern when the starer is using a coin to determine the looking vs. non-looking pattern. This is a completely random way of determining the order. If your subject can determine the pattern before hand, you may just have a different paranormal phenomenon on your hands.


Baker, Robert A. March 2000. ‘Can We Tell When Someone is Staring at Us?' The Skeptical Inquirer Magazine

Humbert, David. 2007 ‘Course Manual – RLST 2326: Dimensions of the Paranormal' Laurentian University

Marks, Davis F. and Colwell, John. September 2000. ‘The Psychic Staring Effect: An Artifact of Pseudo-Randomization.' The Skeptical Inquirer Magazine

Sheldrake, Rupert. ‘Follow-Up Research On The Feeling Of Being Stared At.' 2000. Skeptical Inquirer March/April, 58-61

Sheldrake, Rupert. ‘Experiments on the Sense of Being Stared At: The Elimination of Possible Artefacts.' 2001. Journal of the Society for Psychical Research Vol. 65, pp. 122-137
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