The spotlight effect

This frog may be staring, but it doesn't mean anything. (Provided photo — Diane Chase)

When my children were younger, they used to think adults were staring at them. I laughed it off, asking them what mischief they were up to to make them think they had grabbed someone’s complete attention. It had to be their guilty consciences making them overestimate how many times people were noticing them. I had never heard about the spotlight effect. The term highlights the feeling of being the center of the universe and believing everyone is watching the individual’s every move. The concept targets the missing connection that even though a person is the center of their own universe, it doesn’t make them the center of everyone else’s universe.

It has never been a consuming issue for my family, but we’ve used it as a great talking point. My kids grew to understand sometimes people stare, but it doesn’t have to mean anything. Folks are most likely staring into space, deep in thought about their own issues and solutions. Anyone can get caught in the crosshairs and mistake a lingering gaze for an appraisal. People are most likely in their own corner, thinking everyone is looking at them. It is cyclical.

There is also a difference in thinking everyone is watching and quite another to have anxiety attached to the circumstances. I’m not here to address social anxiety because it would involve a lot more research on my part as well as a medical degree. Instead, I’ll make a few unauthorized observations. The same thought process applies to social media platforms. There is no sense in worrying about what others are thinking because they are also worrying about what other people think.

My children were probably correct. I was staring at them. I’m guessing I was thinking about world peace, or what to have for dinner, or if I’d ever get to sleep again. It was a long time ago, and I’ve been caught staring at a lot more people since then. When I notice, I just smile and wave. It really isn’t personal.


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