We often feel that everything we do is under a social microscope. For example, we worry that everyone will notice the awkward statement that we make during an important conference call or that everyone was focused on our appearance on a "bad hair day." Are such worries justified or are we just being too sensitive when such thoughts cross our mind?
Fear of the social spotlight: Overly sensitive or appropriately vigilant?
According to research findings, we are often too sensitive about how closely others are watching our every move. Social psychologists have studied this phenomenon, which they refer to as "the spotlight effect." Interestingly, the research suggests that we greatly overexaggerate the extent to which the world is watching us.
A set of experiments conducted by Cornell University Professor Tom Gilovich and his colleagues illustrate the spotlight effect well. In some of their studies, Cornell undergraduates were asked to wear a Barry Manilow t-shirt. Although some readers may gleefully begin singing "Mandy" or "Copacabana" at this point, most undergraduates at Cornell would find wearing a t-shirt with Manilow's schnoz in front of other students to be embarrassing. At the end of the study, the shirt wearer was asked to estimate what percentage of the other students would remember their shirt, and they expected that nearly half of the students in the room would be able to recall their embarrassing shirt. However, in actuality when the others students were asked to identify the shirt, less than a quarter of them could do it. On average, people expected that twice as many people would recall the shirt as they actually did.