People watching

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People at a Dutch train station

People watching or crowd watching is the act of observing people and their interactions, usually without their knowledge. It involves picking up on idiosyncrasies to try to guess at another person's story. This includes speech in action, relationship interactions, body language, expressions, clothing and activities. Eavesdropping may accompany the activity,[1] though is not required.[2] For some people it is considered a hobby, but for many others it is a subconscious activity they partake in everyday without even realizing. It requires no new skills rather than focus and discreet observation.[3]

Often people will 'people watch' to interact with others lives without them knowing it. People don't typically communicate with the people that they are watching because they are just an observer outside of their life. A lot of the time people watching is just for fun to see what people do when they are out in the world. They can see how people act in specific settings with many or few people around them. They can see what interest them by the things that they look at if they are in a store, and they can also try to figure out the type of person that they are watching just by seeing what they do and how they act. Other times it can be a study to see how certain ethnic groups act in certain places as opposed to other ethnic groups in other places.


People watching can be insightful and informative for authors when writing a book or actors when performing a play. Watching how other people walk, talk and interact with each other can be used as inspiration for their characters. It can also inspire other artistic works such as artwork and photography, or lead to writing a symphony, movie script or blog post. For others, people watching is a fun and relaxing activity and a great way to pass time when on long journeys or are waiting.[4]

It can also restore a sense of wonder and curiosity from when we were children. In a world consumed with technology it is also a healthy alternative to social media, as it gives you the chance to get out and get some fresh air. People watching exercises the mind as it involves taking the time to simply watch and observe and try to understand people in general.[5]

Naturalistic observation[edit]

People watching is not to be confused with naturalistic observation. Naturalistic observation is used for scientific purposes. It uses the same techniques as people watching. The key is to not let anyone know that you are observing him or her. People are in their natural environment, so there is no pressure for them to behave a certain way, as they would feel if they knew they were being studied. Scientists often are fond of this method because people are acting naturally and not acting how they are expected to act.[6]


  1. ^ Overheard in New York
  2. ^ "People-Watching: Here’s Looking at You" New York Times 15 October 2006
  3. ^ [1]
  4. ^ [2]
  5. ^ [3]
  6. ^ Cherry, Kendra. "What Is Naturalistic Observation?". Retrieved 22 October 2012.