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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 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.

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.

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)

Staring contests[edit]

The line of gaze in a staring contest

A staring 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 can. The game ends when one participant looks away or smiles.

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 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.

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