Bowden’s Brain Breakdown: psychological phenomenons: Gaze-Detection System and Call of the Void

By: Madison Bowden

Have you ever found yourself doing something, and wondered why you did or experienced it? Well, believe it or not, there is a reason behind it.

Our brain is amazing – it is made of billions of neurons, which control our movements, thoughts and generate ideas to communicate with others; it’s vital for our everyday functions.

Scientists have already studied many parts and functions of the brain, but since it’s one of the most complicated organs in our body, researchers haven’t been able to crack some of its mysteries. But, even though there are many unknowns, researchers have driven deeper into a few everyday phenomenons in hope of making sense of our so-called senses.

Why when I look at someone, they look back almost immediately?

That’s because your brain can sense if someone is looking at you.

The phenomenon is called the “Gaze-Detection System.” Your brain is able to easily pick up on cues, and it’s wired to inform you when someone is looking at you, making you feel like you’re being watched; it’s almost like an eerie sixth sense. It can be thought of as a survival instinct- we detect it even though they might not even be looking directly at us.

There are ten regions in our brain that are involved with human sight, and there may be more. But other areas of the brain, such as the region that registers threats, might be connected to the gaze detection.

Even though it is more obvious that someone is looking at you from their body language, such as when their body faces away, but their head is facing you, research shows that we can still detect another human’s gaze through our advanced peripheral vision. Also, a larger sclera (the white part of our pupil), compared to most animals, allows us to notice the direction of other humans’ gazes quickly.

“Gaze perception — the ability to tell what someone is looking at — is a social cue people often take for granted. Judging whether others are looking at us may come naturally, but it’s actually not that simple as our brains have to do a lot of work behind the scenes. Direct gaze is often a social cue that the other person wants to communicate with us, so it’s a signal for an upcoming interaction.”

Professor Colin Clifford, psychologist at the University of Sydney’s Vision Center

Prof Clifford, who led in a study of the phenomenon, found that people with autism are less able to tell if someone is looking at them, whereas people with social anxiety are more hyper aware of the action.

The Call of the Void (HPP)

Have you ever stood at the edge of a high place and thought “If I wanted to, I could jump,” or have you been driving and thought how easy it would be to drive off the road? It’s actually a studied phenomenon, common in half of people.

Don’t worry, though- it is proven that having these intrusive thoughts is in no relation to suicide ideation. In fact, it’s completely normal.

In 2012, the first significant study was conducted, where more than 400 undergraduate students were surveyed. The scientists found that more than half who have had the intrusive thoughts at least once, have never had a suicidal thought, whereas 75% of people who have had suicidal thoughts or ideas reported wanting to jump from a high place. This was the first study that determined that there was a clear difference between people who had sudden, curious thoughts and people who wanted to act on them.

Scientists have theorized that our brain might actually be trying to keep us out of trouble. Researchers suggest that we might be “misinterpreting a safety signal,” and that our brains are encouraging us to move away from danger, like a survival instinct. For example, if you feel the sudden urge to put a metal object in an electrical outlet, your brain is alerting you that you’d be in danger by doing so.

A study has also found that a person with a higher level of anxiety may experience the phenomenon more than someone who doesn’t have as high of levels. A study led by Jennifer Hames, a clinical psychologist at Florida State University, concluded that people who experience it seem to be more sensitive to internal cues.

“It seems to be something known to many people regardless of suicidality and anxiety. As such, it is normal, and not a sign of psychopathology.”

Tobias Teismann, lead researcher at Ruhr-University Bochum in the Department of Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy

Works Cited

https://www.treehugger.com/why-can-we-sense-when-people-are-looking-us-4864192

https://bigthink.com/surprising-science/why-is-it-you-can-sense-when-someones-staring-at-you/#:~:text=The%20biological%20phenomenon%20is%20known,this%20response%20are%20very%20precise.&text=Humans%20are%20sensitive%20to%20the,we%20automatically%20follow%20their%20gaze.

https://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2308318/Think-someones-staring-Youre-paranoid–hard-wired-brains.html

https://www.livescience.com/what-is-call-of-the-void

https://www.healthline.com/health/call-of-the-void#when-to-get-help

https://www.healthline.com/health/mental-health/what-causes-deja-vu#what-it-is

https://www.discovermagazine.com/mind/whats-really-happening-when-you-experience-deja-vu

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