From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Staring is a prolonged gaze or fixed look. In staring, one object or person is the continual focus of visual interest, for an amount of time. Staring can be interpreted as being either hostile, or the result of intense concentration or affection. Staring behaviour can be considered a form of aggression, or an invasion of an individual's privacy. If eye contact is reciprocated, mutual staring can take the form of a battle of wills, or even a game where the loser is the person who blinks or looks away first – a staring contest.
To some extent, the meaning of a person’s staring behaviour depends upon the attributions made by the observer. Staring often occurs accidentally, when someone appears to be staring into space they may well be lost in thought, or stupefied, or simply unable to see.
Staring conceptually also implies confronting the inevitable – ‘staring death in the face’, or ‘staring into the abyss’. Group staring evokes and emphasises paranoia; such as the archetypal stranger walking into a saloon in a Western to be greeted by the stares of all the regulars. The fear of being stared at is called Scopophobia.
The question of social norms or staring has potentially far reaching implications. For example, tight staring policies in urban settings may have led to an increased estrangement of people from one another; that it has become in identity politics – if staring at someone is to objectify them and set them out as different, then the perception of staring behaviour is tied to the recognition of other’s subjectivity and individuality.
Children have to be socialised into learning acceptable staring behaviour. This is often difficult because children have different sensitivities to self-esteem. Staring is also sometimes used as a technique of flirting with an object of affection.
The act of staring implies a visual focus, where the subject of the gaze is objectified. This has been the subject of psychoanalytical studies on the nature of scopophilia, with a subsequent development in some aspects of feminist thought (see Gaze, film, photography and voyeurism). Paradoxically, the notion of staring also implicates the looker in constructing themselves as a subject. Sartre was interested in the individual experiencing shame only when they perceive that their shameful act is being witnessed by another. (see The look)
The Psychic Staring Effect
The Psychic Staring Effect is concept of 'non-visual detection of staring'. The idea that people can feel that they are being stared at has been studied heavily, by many different researchers, with different results. Rupert Sheldrake in a controversial book in 2003 called "The Sense Of Being Stared At" writes: