Stuff You Should Know | Podcast Review | November 23, 2015 | By

Stuff You Should Know: What’s the Deal with Staring?

If someone catches you staring at them, the spot you’re staring at may increase in temperature. Seriously.

It’s not polite to stare. Why? Because, if someone sees you, the spot you’re staring at may increase in temperature! Wait, what? This week on Stuff You Should Know, we have the privilege of learning about staring, or what I did when I saw the Star Wars trailer in IMAX.

From what I can gather, the genesis for forming an episode around this topic came from Josh and/or Chuck walking into the cereal aisle and being stared at by [insert cartoon cereal box character] 1 or some Frosted Mini Wheats.

I’m not sure exactly what I expected, but I thought this episode would be more of a review of the cultural and historical ramifications of staring. Fortunately, Josh and Chuck actually do their research and leverage well-documented studies and official experiments.

It seems the there really isn’t anywhere where staring isn’t taboo. The lone exception being a few countries, where female readers (who are probably averse to being started at) should avoid, that don’t have an issue with men leering at women. The cultural status of staring thus clarified, the focus turns to the more scientific side of staring. What are the physiological responses to staring, from both the stare-er and the stare-ee. Again, unlike Josh and Chuck, I’m not doing the research to discover if those are real words or not.

Multiple studies have shown that humans get physically get warmer in the spots where people are looking at. While the benefits of that response are not entirely clear, there are some well-documented benefits of staring. One function—which makes sense evolutionarily—is staring as a call for help. Collectively, this research supports the Cooperative Eye Hypothesis, which posits that the shape and structure of the human eye developed to allow for effective communication and understanding among each other.

This week’s episode was a little shorter than usual and, like most weeks—I just wanted a little bit more. One of the issues with narrowing the focus to something so specific as staring, rather than, say, how eyes work. Maybe there’s not a lot of research out there—it’s possible the farthest we’ve gotten into learning about staring is that there are measurable effects when we know we are being observed. To be fair, it is a relatively narrow within the general category of vision. Humans don’t spend a large portion of their time staring at things. At least not like we might have historically. 2

One thought, in my completely unqualified opinion, that I had was related to how amputees look/stare at an image of their opposite limbs that are still intact to counteract the effects of phantom pain. The body processes the image it as looking at the missing limb. And it appears that in some way, humans can even mirror the focus of another person’s eyes. It’s not a stretch to believe that humans can extend the physiological effects of this.

Mirroring the behavior of others is one of the most fundamental human instincts. I don’t really have much of a point, but I wondered how far this can be extended. With the development of virtual reality headsets, there should be some interesting practical benefits related to staring in the near future.

Humans developed to be social creatures and the cooperative eye hypothesis makes perfect sense to me. It would be interesting to have an episode on how humans work and analyze the differences between homo sapiens and other species. There have to be loads of small differences like this that most people don’t know that would be great to learn about.

Enough about staring, there were two other SYSK episodes this week, including a live one!

The episode on dementia does a nice job shedding some light on such a terrible array of symptoms and potential conditions. And the Rodney Dangerfield Live episode explores a relatively unique topic for Josh and Chuck, a person! Check it out! 3

  1. I’m going to go with Count Chocula or Captain Crunch. ^
  2. Remember, people used to watch 3 channels total at one point in their lives. ^
  3. On a side note, I think Josh and Chuck’s producer has stopped being mentioned entirely. Jeri may or may not be running the show remotely. Three episodes in one week may mean she’s just editing a lot of tape. Hope you are well Jeri! ^

About the Author

Nick Wade is a founding writer at Audiologue, where he writes about The Sporkful and Stuff  You Should Know. You can find him at

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