Whether it's replying "you too" when a waiter tells you to enjoy your meal, holding a door for somebody just slightly too far away, or literally any conversation with a hairdresser, we all suffer from the occasional moment of social awkwardness. Luckily, science can explain away most of those worries, which we're sure will come as great comfort to you the next time you ask a woman when she's due and she replies, "I'm not pregnant."
6Your Brain Is Hardwired To Believe Everyone Is Looking At You
Oh God, everybody's staring at you. What did you do? Do you have something on your face? Have you suddenly become deaf to the sound of your own farting? Oh holy shit, are you farting right now, you need to go, you need to-
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"Where is he going? Did I fart? Oh holy shit, am I farting right now? I need to go, I need to-"
If you relate to that scenario, know that all the attention on you is probably in your head. Science has shown that our brains are hardwired to assume that people are staring at us, even if they're just kind of vaguely looking in our direction. Researchers at the University of Sydney did a study in which they had volunteers look at photographs of faces to determine which way they were looking. In cases where the answer wasn't obvious -- like, the image was blurry or they were wearing sunglasses -- the participants tended to assume by default that the face was staring directly at them.
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She's actually looking at the ghost behind you.
And that's not even the biggest dick move your paranoid brain pulls on you. It turns out that even when people are looking in your direction, your self-conscious mind misinterprets their expression. In another study, researchers showed the participants video clips of faces displaying either emotional or neutral expressions. When asked to describe how they thought the people in the images were feeling, people who rated highly for anxiety tended to report more emotion in neutral faces.
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"Ohmygod, he's gonna bite me on the face!"
But even if everybody is staring at you, all the time, judging you with their eyes, you shouldn't panic because ...
5You Need Eyes On You To Change Yourself For The Better
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Say you're an introvert who wants to be more outgoing. (You? the Cracked reader? Say it ain't so!) The best way to actually achieve this isn't to believe in yourself -- that's some hippy-dippy PSA crap -- it's to trick other people into believing that you're already more outgoing than you actually are. Science has shown that if people have an opinion about you, then your actual personality will often change to reflect that.
Researchers asked a group of participants to sit down and record two interviews on camera. In one, they were instructed to answer a set of questions about themselves as an introvert, and in the other, to answer the same questions as an extrovert. They were then told that a person sitting outside in the waiting area would be coming in next to view one of those tapes, but they didn't know which one until the recording was finished.
"Don't worry, this isn't a sex thing. We can almost guarantee it."
At the end of the session, they sent each of the participants outside to sit next to the person who would be viewing the tape, then watched to see how they interacted. What they discovered was that, regardless of how outgoing the test subject actually was, they sat closer to the person and were more sociable with them if they believed that they were about to watch the extrovert tape. And the opposite was true if they thought they were going to watch the one where the subject mumbled into their lap the whole time. Add all that nonsense up, and it means, for any change in your personality to stick, you need to be accountable to other people. Change doesn't come from within, it comes from the burning, expectant gaze of the people around you.