A universal pastime…..
You and I probably have a common pastime. I can feel you thinking no way — I’m not as screw lose as you…..
I love people watching. I would defy you to tell me that you don’t.
The experience of people watching is different for each of us but I think it is universally enjoyed because we love being amateur psychologists. Being drawn isn’t always about what people say to each other (although I like being nosey around that if possible), but what we can deduce about them from how they interact with others and their surroundings. It doesn’t even have to be exciting. Sometimes it’s truly the mundane or everyday action that is fascinating because we each do the regular differently.
Studies show we attribute most about people through observing their faces, bolstering it with our perception of their physical attributes and actions. It has been found that attractive people (from the point of view of a combination of facial and physical features) seem to fare better in life than the less attractive; they are deemed more honest and successful. This is because we ascribe a range of traits to a person — even a stranger, based on facial features however sub-consciously.
Alex Todorov has carried out research on ‘impression formation’. He says that we tend to assess faces using two dimensions. One is on our perception of this person doing harm to us — essentially trustworthiness and the other is to do with dominance — correlated with physical strength. Interestingly his research showed that whilst physical strength can be more accurately judged from facial features, trustworthiness cannot. However cultures across the globe assess features differently. In Chinese culture his work shows that they also judge for trustworthiness but instead of physical strength, they consider competence — as a catch all for intelligence and social status. This tells me that my sleuthing whilst people watching will be different to yours.
If you search the internet there are guides on how to people watch and where the best places are to do it. However we will each have favourite places to carry out this pastime. For me this place is an airport. Airports are wonderful places to sit and watch particularly with the explosion of characters present. They are vibrant locations, full of emotion and question marks. From deep joy to broken hearts to trepidation to exhaustion to excitement. All energy feels as if in technicolour. You can legitimately observe what individuals wear, how they wait, how they entertain, how they argue, how they sit — or not. You can observe quietly the idiosyncrasies of the human race.
I do appreciate there can be a dark side to people watching. When does it step over into voyeurism. Who hasn’t deliberated over the nature of the relationships working through in front of you? Invented stories to fit the actions? Decided on someones personality? Taken a mental claw to one of the unknowing participants. Is that harmless fun or a streak of high and mighty ‘judgyness’? Who hasn’t worried about watching and not intervening? When does this inaction move from harmless fun to abdicating responsibility to help others in distress?
The French have a word — Flaneur — that means a stroller who is able to observe society as he (typically a man) wanders through it. It seems to have been a normal pastime for the well to do gentleman. That is people watching is something that has passed through the ages, is universal and accessible to all regardless of background or language. I enjoy that it is a hidden pastime that fosters meritocracy in creativity.