Staring

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A muscular man with a fixed look at the Brooklyn Book Festival.

Staring is a prolonged gaze or fixed look. In staring, one object or person is the continual focus of visual interest, for an amount of time. Staring can be interpreted as being either hostile, or the result of intense concentration or affection. Staring behaviour can be considered a form of aggression, or an invasion of an individual's privacy. If eye contact is reciprocated, mutual staring can take the form of a battle of wills, or even a game where the loser is the person who blinks or looks away first – a staring contest.

To some extent, the meaning of a person’s staring behaviour depends upon the attributions made by the observer. Staring often occurs accidentally, when someone appears to be staring into space they may well be lost in thought, or stupefied, or simply unable to see.

Staring conceptually also implies confronting the inevitable – ‘staring death in the face’, or ‘staring into the abyss’. Group staring evokes and emphasises paranoia; such as the archetypal stranger walking into a saloon in a Western to be greeted by the stares of all the regulars. The fear of being stared at is called Scopophobia.

Social factors[edit]

Staring can be interpreted as being either hostile, or the result of intense concentration; above, two men stare at each other during a political argument.

The question of social norms or staring has potentially far reaching implications. For example, tight staring policies in urban settings may have led to an increased estrangement of people from one another; that it has become in identity politics – if staring at someone is to objectify them and set them out as different, then the perception of staring behaviour is tied to the recognition of other’s subjectivity and individuality.

Children have to be socialised into learning acceptable staring behaviour. This is often difficult because children have different sensitivities to self-esteem. Staring is also sometimes used as a technique of flirting with an object of affection. However, being stared at, especially for a prolonged amount of time or very frequently by one person in particular, can cause discomfort to those subjected to it. Staring behaviour is a common form of social interaction amongst Argentinians.[1][2]

Jean-Paul Sartre discusses "The look" in Being and Nothingness, in which the appearance of someone else creates a situation in which a person's subjectivity is transformed without their consent.

Psychological study[edit]

The act of staring implies a visual focus, where the subject of the gaze is objectified. This has been the subject of psychoanalytical studies on the nature of scopophilia, with a subsequent development in some aspects of feminist thought (see Gaze, film, photography and voyeurism). Paradoxically, the notion of staring also implicates the looker in constructing themselves as a subject. Sartre was interested in the individual experiencing shame only when they perceive that their shameful act is being witnessed by another. (see The look)

Psychic staring effect[edit]

The Psychic Staring Effect is concept of "non-visual detection of staring". The idea that people can sense that they are being stared at has been studied heavily, by many different researchers, with different results.[3][4][5] In 2003, Rupert Sheldrake wrote the controversial book "The Sense of Being Stared At",[4] which contained a great deal of anecdotal evidence for the phenomenon: "Many people have had the experience of feeling that they are being looked at, and on turning around find that they really are. Conversely, many people have stared at other people's backs, for example in a lecture theater, and watched them become restless and then turn round."

After students reported the phenomenon to him in the late 19th century, psychologist Edward B. Titchener suggested that the effect was an illusion, and that when a person turned to check whether they were being watched, the initial movement of their head might attract the focus of somebody behind them who was previously only looking in their general direction. By the time the person had turned their head fully, the second person would be looking directly at them, giving the mistaken impression that they had been staring at them all along.[6]

Staring contests[edit]

The line of gaze in a staring contest

A staring contest (or blinking contest) is a game in which two people stare into each other's eyes and attempt to maintain eye contact for a longer period than their opponent. The game ends when one participant looks away.

A popular variation of the game exists in which the participants not only attempt to maintain eye contact, but also must resist the urge to blink, creating a physical challenge as well as a psychological one. Most other variations revolve chiefly around either of these two core objectives, with some allowing the aggressive use of distracting actions to force an opponent into defeat, while others prohibit virtually any action but staring.

Another commonly accepted ruleset is the 'ambush' ruleset, where one participant begins the contest without the opponent initially being aware of it. As soon as eye contact is made, the staring contest has begun, and proceeds according to regular conventions. The entire contest is allowed to pass without the opponent being aware they were involved.

Staring contests ('Stare-out') were featured as an animation in the first series of surreal BBC television comedy sketch show, Big Train (aired in 1998). The animation satirised televised sporting events coverage and its over-excited commentary, inspired by events such as the World Chess Championship, boxing and the football World Cup. The sketches are set during the World Stare-out Championship Finals, a staring match which is described as a global event broadcast all over the world.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Democratization without representation: the politics of small industry in Mexico By Kenneth C. Shadlen
  2. ^ USA (2012-09-25). "Buenos Aires Cultural Tips - National Geographic's Ultimate City Guides". Travel.nationalgeographic.com. Retrieved 2012-11-06. 
  3. ^ "sheldrake.org". sheldrake.org. Retrieved 2012-11-06. 
  4. ^ a b encyclopedia.com[dead link]
  5. ^ Lobach, E.; Bierman, D. (2004). "The Invisible Gaze: Three Attempts to Replicate Sheldrake's Staring Effects" (PDF). Proceedings of the 47th PA Convention. pp. 77–90. Retrieved 2007-07-30. 
  6. ^ Titchener, E. B. "The 'feeling of being stared at.'" Science, 1898, New series Volume 8, pages 895-897. Retrieved 28 February 2009

External links[edit]