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.[3]


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.[4]

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. ^ [1]
  4. ^ [2]
  5. ^ Cherry, Kendra. "What Is Naturalistic Observation?". Retrieved 22 October 2012.