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. This differs from voyeurism in that it does not relate to sex or sexual gratification. Eavesdropping may accompany the activity,[1] though is not required.[2]

People watching is often an activity that people do to gain a first impression or simply for fun to pass time.[3] People watching does not require any specialized training or equipment. This might be one reason many individuals resort to people watching to pass time during long journeys. Many writers and storytellers get inspiration through people watching.


Many authors use people watching as inspiration for characters in their books and stories. Seeing people on the street or in a restaurant and eavesdropping on what they are saying can be extremely informative and inspirational for a person who is trying to create characters for a new story.[4] It can also be used just for fun and relaxation.

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.[5]


  1. ^ Overheard in New York
  2. ^ "People-Watching: Here’s Looking at You" New York Times 15 October 2006
  3. ^ "Watch About Our Definitions". Merriam-Webster. Retrieved 22 October 2012. 
  4. ^ Chartrand, James. "How to Find Your Daily Writing Motivation". 
  5. ^ Cherry, Kendra. "What Is Naturalistic Observation?". Retrieved 22 October 2012.