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Science explains how we can tell when someone's looking at us

Ever feel like someone's watching you? Do you find out you're right, and you don't know how you knew?

Psychology Today has an article on what accounts for the closest we have to Spider-Man's spider-sense. The information is at the edges of our awareness, but we can still detect when we're being looked at.

There's a system in our brains that detects where others are looking, and can tell the difference between when someone is looking directly at you or is just looking over your shoulder. According to Psychology Today, "Studies that record the activity of single brain cells find that particular cells fire when someone is staring right at you, but—amazingly—not when the observer's gaze is averted just a few degrees to the left or right of you (then different cells fire instead)."

This system gives power to the way we use our eyes, with eye contact being a powerful part of our communication with one another. It can make us feel intimate with someone else, or intimidated.

Part of what goes into it is that our brains notice the head and body positions of those around us.

We also detect where eyes are pointed better in other humans than in many animals due to the sharp difference between the whites around our eyes and the dark pupil in the center. Many animals don't have this distinction, at least to nearly the degree humans do. It makes those animals better predators to have their gaze harder to detect, but expands our communication skills.

Read more about this phenomenon in Psychology Today. And to end on a fun note... my two favorite '80s songs about being watched:

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