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  • Writer's pictureCat Ward


Updated: Sep 14, 2023

Many of you reading this will be familiar with the're walking down a street, or sitting in a cafe or a bar, or you're on a train or bus, or in a crowded public space..and there arises within you a sudden strong feeling that you're being watched..perhaps a small voice in your mind tells you to turn around, or to look up, or in a particular direction. You do so..and your eyes meet those of someone who, it seems, has been observing you..Or perhaps you are observing someone, and they react to your stare..

This is quite a common experience, it seems, and it is recognised as such by quite a broad spectrum of people, including some in professions that you mightn't have thought would have given it credit as being worthy of consideration, often to the degree that it's become part of written or unwritten protocol for many of those professions.. But how could we possibly know when we're being observed?

I'll get to that via my usual questions shortly, but first let's take a bit more of a look at this fascinating phenomenon..including its rather interesting name, and some research and experimentation that has been conducted into its reality.


In 1898, a research paper, possibly the first on the subject, was published by American Psychologist on the sense of being stared at was published (in the December 23 edition of the periodical Science by Edward B. Titchener, a man considered one of the founders of experimental psychology in America.

In this paper, titled "The Feeling Of Being Stared At", which detailed his observations of the beliefs of his students at Cornell University in New York, Titchener stated that many of his students held a strong belief that they could tell when they were being looked at from behind, or that they could make another turn around by gazing at the back of that person's neck.

Titchener (a sceptic regarding any possible telepathic processes coming into play) felt that there was nothing mysterious going on there, and proffered a rational explanation; that it's normal for people to turn around anyway, and should they do so, and happen to catch someone staring at them they would remember this, but if nobody was staring at them when they turned around, they would forget the incident. He also felt that the very action of turning around, and the movement involved, might catch the attention of another, and cause them to look, at which time their eyes would meet those of the person who had just turned around.

Despite his scepticism, Titchener nonetheless conducted experiments upon his students' abilities to detect stares..and reported that the experiment returned negative results. No experimental details or findings were published. He did, however, explain his decision to run these experiments, stating;

"If the scientific reader object that this result might have been foreseen, and that the experiments were, therefore, a waste of time, I can only reply that they seem to me to have their justification in the breaking-down of a superstition which has deep and widespread roots in the popular consciousness. No scientifically-minded psychologist believes in telepathy. At the same time, the disproof of it in a particular case may start a student upon the straight scientific path, and the time spent may thus be repaid to science a hundredfold."

(Titchener, "Science" 1898, vol.208, full study pp. 895-897)

In 1913, John Edgar Coover, an American psychologist (who was also quite sceptical of anything other than a rational explanation being responsible for the phenomenon) published a study, in the October issue of The American Journal of Psychology, which would be the first on the subject to also publish accompanying methods and data.

Coover ran a series of trials, using ten students of varying ages who were part of his General Psychology classes, where the ten "reagents" were given a total of 100 guesses each as to whether or not they were being stared at. This series of trials ran for four hours per week until all guesses were completed (follow the link, above the table of results, for the full study).

Of the total of 1000 guesses made by the reagents as to whether or not they were being stared at, Coover found that they were correct 47.3% of the time for when they guessed they were not being stared at, and 53.3% of the time for when they guessed they were being stared at, giving him a median of 50.2%.

Like Titchener before him, Coover didn't consider this total to be of statistical significance in proving the possibility of any extrasensory processes taking place, stating of the staring experiments and other similar ones he had conducted:

"...we may conclude that no cause besides chance has been found working toward right cases.."

"..There are other ways in which the results may be distributed to show that there is no conspicuous 'bunching' of right cases in any of the rubrics (evaluative scoring guides), and that therefore the consistency of mutual support adds to the certainty that there has been no influence beyond chance operative toward right guesses".

(Coover 1913, A.J.P. vol. 24, p.572).

Coover further clarified his position on the matter, and on telepathy in general, writing;

"It seems pretty clear that, if there is a capacity to be aware of being stared at, it is not, as Richet thought of telepathic phenomena, shared to a slight extent by normal persons, but must be confined, as James suspected, to subjects whose sensibilities have been augmented beyond a 'critical point' through hypnosis or other abnormal conditions.

Our reagents who had more or less confidence in their ability did not under the favouring conditions of our experimentation prove their power. Their belief must be largely based upon those subjective factors which enabled them to deliver some guesses with a strong feeling of certainty, and partly perhaps upon undue consideration of cases in which they have 'verified' their feeling by catching the starer." (Coover 1913, A.J.P. vol. 24, p.573)

That tone of utmost certainty, which was applied to both Titchener and Coover's assertations that the phenomena was nothing of note and was merely an illusion, sounded the death knell for any further research upon the subject; no further experimental studies were conducted for decades, and their studies are still quoted to this day, often by sceptics, as being authoritative on the subject.

In 1939, the Dutch psychologist J.J. Poortman, of Leyden University in the Netherlands, conducted a study upon the subject, due to his own experiences with feeling the stares of others. This study was translated into English some 20 years later. Poortman initially reported that he had found no data confirmative of the ability, but a later re-analysis of his findings ("Seven Experiments That Could Change The World"; Sheldrake 1994, chapter 4) found otherwise.

No further studies were conducted until 1978, when a student at Edinburgh university, Donald Peterson, carried out an experiment as part of an undergraduate project, using one-way mirrors. The results were apparently positive, and statistically significant. In 1983 Linda Williams, a student at the University of Adelaide, in Australia, also conducted an experiment, using closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras as a medium. Her findings were statistically significant, showing that subjects were often aware of being looked at when the person looking at them was doing so via CCTV from another room.


You have perhaps experienced scopaesthesia before, although you quite possibly weren't aware that this sensation had a name. That's due to the fact that for quite a while, it didn't.

In the late 1980's, the brilliant biologist and researcher Rupert Sheldrake began studying the phenomenon, and has since collected a huge database of reports from people who have experienced it themselves, or whose gaze has been responsible for others experiencing it.

Sheldrake decided that this sensation, one which has been such a commonly reported experience, was deserving of a name. In order to attempt to devise one, he ran a contest within the Science faculty at Cambridge University. The faculty responded with suggestions, and the term scopaesthesia was thus born.

In his book, "The Sense Of Being Stared At" (2004), Sheldrake provides several fascinating ways in which it may work in nature, law enforcement, and everyday life;

The theory of vision, that something coming out of our eyes is responsible for what we see, is called Extramission theory. Extramission literally means "sending out". The concept was first proposed by the Pythagorean School, which contained such thinkers as Euclid and Ptolemy. The theory suggested that a visual "current" was projected out from the eyes, with sight proceeding from the eye to the object that is being seen, and asserts that vision is not merely a passive process. It was actually Euclid who first wrote of the concept, as early as the 4th century B.C. (

Euclid, along with Pythagoras, Diocles, Anthemius, and Ptolemy, were among the first to theorise that vison may perhaps work in two ways; either as an image formed in our mind and projected externally by way of energetic output and intent (extramission),

or via its' opposite (Intromission), whereby the image we see is exactly where it appears to be. I'll save those for another piece, as I wish to examine how the sense of being stared at may work in several other ways.


In his book, "The Sense Of Being Stared At" (Sheldrake, 2003), the renowned biologist discusses how scopaesthesia has been illustrated to work upon animals, and includes accounts from hunters, wildlife photographers, and also ponders the possibility of it being involved when one animal, such as a prey animal, senses that they are being watched by a predatory species. He also considers the possibility that insects possess this sense too, and it may be the reason why some butterflies and beetles have evolved to develop spots in he shape of eyes on their bodies and wings,and that they may have a better chance of survival than if they did not have it (pp. 148-52).

Examples of "eye" spots on a a Burmese turtle, an Emperor moth, and an African owl

Sheldrake illustrates also how scopaesthesia works when an animal detects a hunter observing them,and provides accounts from hunters, photographers, and bird-watchers;

WheAn example from a wildlife observer, J. Allen Boone, who was watching a group of monkeys playing, states;

"With startling abruptness, every monkey quit whatever he happened to be doing and then looked in the same southerly direction. And then motivated by obvious fear and panic, they went stampeding out of the clearing in a northerly direction..

What had caused this sudden exodus I couldn't remotely imagine. I decided to remain where I was and see what was going to happen next..Three puzzling hours went ticking by. Then into the clearing from the south came five men walking in single file. The first two were carrying rifles, the other three were attendants. They were as surprised to se me there as I was to see them. We introduced ourselves..In the midst of this a most illuminating fact was revealed. At the precise moment those two hunters had picked up their rifles and headed for the clearing, three hours' walking distance away, every monkey in the clearing had fled from the place." (pp. 152-53)

Another, from a fisherman, David Boston,states;

"I often wondered why when my mind wandered I would hook a salmon after hours of fruitless fishing. Then I read about an American Indian belief that animals were receptive to the hunter's thoughts, and your mind should therefore be free of all inimical thoughts.

I decided to try this approach and started to practise letting my mind 'freewheel', so to speak. My catch and kill rate increased considerably. If I stalked rabbits, deer, or on one occasion, a fox and then just thought about shooting them, although I was unarmed, they became very agitated, uneasy, and quickly went to cover" (p.153)

Yet another, this time from a bird watcher, says;

"If you are photographing birds, when you are not using a hide you try to get closer and closer to them. There is no doubt, in my experience, that if each time you move up a little bit you don't look at the bird, you look somewhere else altogether and then settle down and gradually look at it, there is a fair chance you won't frighten them away. They definitely have an awareness that you are looking at them." (p.156)

Another account from a pet owner says;

"Our dog is almost completely deaf. Many times she turns around when I stare at her. She couldn't have heard me." (p.157)

Yet another comes from a couple who may have been mistaken as a pervert, but was actually looking for their missing ducks they thought may be on a nearby island, through a telescope!

"With the telescope aimed at the distant side of the island, I could see what appeared to be two human images, but they were so out of focus that I could only assume they were the neighbours since we could identify their boat. Later my husband and I went outside and walked along the shore trying to find the ducks there. Much to my surprise the couple raced up and the woman yelled out 'what were you doing- watching us through binoculars? I could tell you were watching us from inside your house while we were on the island sunbathing in the nude." (p.159). Scopaesthesia could work in reverse also, of course, and Sheldrake illustrates a few instances where people have felt they were being watched by a predatory animal.


The first account comes from a good friend of mine, Lt. Greg Lawson, who explains via message that although it isn't taught in academies, there is a general belief amongst his fellow officers that suspects can detect when they are being watched, either by remote surveillance, or if they are being followed from a distance, or observed via CCTV cameras. He goes on to explain;

"Scopaesthesia- this is one of those things I've experienced many times, and one turning quickly to look at the person looking at me, who immediately glances away.I think it's another one of those random events that requires the experience, or to be completely oblivious to other observation. If it's done in an experiment, it typically doesn't work. Unawareness seems to be required. I myself have tried to stare at people to get them to have this experience and turn around and look at me, but sadly it has never worked."

Sheldrake provides examples from law enforcement also, coming from Rick Dickson, a narcotics officer in Plains, Texas;

"I've noticed that a lot of times the crook will just get a feeling that things aren't right, that he's being watched. We often have somebody look right in our direction even though he can't see us. A lot of times we're inside a vehicle." (p.141)

Another, this time regarding CCTV, came from a former SAS officer, who was conducting anti-terrorist surveillance in Northern Ireland, is this;

"We removed a slate and drilled a small hole in the roof and put a lens through it to look down the street and watch. After a couple of days we got the feeling they knew we were there. The third day they did a raid on the shop. They ran a van into the bottom of the shop to burn it out" (p.143)


Scopaesthesia, it seems, works in a relationship also, primarily by way of sexual desire and infidelity. Sheldrake provides several rather sad examples of this from various people, two of which I will give details of;

One comes from a New Zealand student, working in America at the time, who was thinking of his dearly-loved girlfriend in his home country;

"I had just got home from work one day when I had a vision of her having sex, not with me. It was late afternoon in New Zealand, so I decided to give her a call. She was shocked to hear from me and didn't want to talk because she had someone in bed with her." (pp.91-92)

And from a man in America;

"My wife had an affair 2000 miles from home, and I felt the betrayal in my heart three times, on a long weekend when she was supposed to be with her best girlfriend. She was amazed when I told her where, when, and how many times she had sex with that guy. She and he were the only two who knew, she thought." (p.92)

And some positive ones also, one from a man in New York, who told Sheldrake;

"My erotic thoughts about my girlfriend stimulated sexual excitement in her at a distance of about 100 miles with no pre-arrangement" (p.91)

And another, from a young man in Holland, who states that he and his girlfriend , who was 20 miles away, were thinking about sex with each other at the same time, and both sent one another emails about it. (p.91)


Members of the English Royal family are some of the most photographed people in the world, so it comes as no surprise that they have a heightened sensitivity to observation.

Princess Diana, who was used to being watched, was one of those, according to one photographer, who states;

"She was possibly the most extreme example of somebodt being constantly aware that there was a possibility of being photographed. Because she was so against being photographed, she honed that awareness down to such a fine degree that it was almost impossible to catch her unawares. She claimed she had a sixth sense, and said she could smell a photographer a mile away" (p.140)


There is a saying in martial arts, "The intention directs the ch'i, the ch'i directs the body", and Sheldrake illustrates one example that I find quite fascinating, from a martial arts student by the name of Roger Ainsworth, about a blindfolded student surrounded by his fellow classmates, who would have to sense which direction their opponent was located in;

"At some time a preselected member in the circle would begin to think hostile thoughts at the person in the middle. They would slowly raise one arm, the hand held as if holding a hand gun, and attempt to 'shoot' the blindfolded person. If that person sensed something, he was told to shout out 'stop', and point in the direction he perceived the threat to be coming from. At first, we weren't too successful, but after a couple of months we did get better and better. Our teacher said there wasn't nothing magical about any of it, and that in man's early history our senses would have been far sharper than they are now. All he was teaching us was a way of getting back some of those lost abilities" (pp.145-46)

So there we have it, friends. I will say, for my own mind, that telepathy can work in quite an array of ways, and many such experiments about how it may work have been conducted, by luminaries past and present. I agree with Sheldrake, and the others, that it is to do with intent and focus, and the energetic output it emits. If we think of ourselves as a sort of "Mental Radio" as Upton Sinclair called it in his 1930 book by the same name, or as a bioenergetic field which can be felt by others, the possible number of telepathic interactions are staggering to contemplate. You may have noticed I have written my reference sources in advance..scopaesthesia does work both ways, after all!


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Jan 14

That was a delightful read and sparked influence and creativity toward a future endeavo, as I have been lost in a rut and putting off . Just what I needed Ty for the outsource and footnotes ❤️

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