Magazine article Psychology Today

Don't Look Now

Magazine article Psychology Today

Don't Look Now

Article excerpt

WE DO IT on busy streets, in subway stations, in the doctor's office, and wherever there are unfamiliar faces. We steal glances, wondering about the people around us and their lives. And we try not to get caught doing it.

Given that people watching is a widespread activity, others are probably watching us about as much as we watch them. Yet new research, reported in the Journal ofPersonality and Social Psychology, suggests that people watchers wrongly assume otherwise. In six studies, participants consistently tended to estimate that they observed and thought about nearby people more than those people focused on them, even when that was generally not true.

The researchers, a team of psychologists at Yale, propose a name for this mistaken belief: "the invisibility cloak illusion." As if magically concealed from the scrutiny of others, they argue, we have a tendency to feel as though we're more watcher than watched. This bias makes a certain kind of sense: "We always have access to our own thoughts about others but rarely have access to their thoughts about us," explains Margaret Clark, who co-authored the paper with Erica Boothby and John Bargh. …

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