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Bravely News

The spotlight effect – Why does it like I am being stared at?

by Shenice Long

You walk into a crowded room – you feel all eyes on you.

Like one thousand spotlights are illuminating your entire being.

You start to notice your posture. How faded your jeans are. The way your hair just won’t fall how its supposed to. How tall or short you are.

The spotlight is on you— or so it seems. 

Does this sound familiar?

We’re going to be harsh for a second here, chances are, you’re probably grossly overestimating how much people are noticing these things about you. But even if it’s an overestimation, that doesn’t make it feel any less real.

This is a psychological phenomenon known as the ‘spotlight effect’. 

How the Spotlight Effect magnifies your social anxiety

More often than not, we tend to overestimate the amount of notice we get with regards to our appearance and behaviour – the tendency to feel like we’re in the ‘spotlight’.

This bias appears in both:
– Positive (when we feel everyone notices our good hair day – oh how we wish!) and;
– Negative situations (thinking everybody is now laughing at you because you misspoke during a presentation).
And for the latter, it potentially builds up to be a huge source of social anxiety for some people. 

When we’re constantly caught up in  how we think we’re portrayed to other people, we inflate our own significance to others. This often leads us to feel self-conscious and insecure, resulting from the misjudgment of others’ opinions and the situation.

If we get stuck in the vicious cycle of the spotlight effect, we might hold ourselves back by not acting according to how we truly feel and pass up on valuable opportunities. 

Social anxiety can become a burden for some people, in some cases the spotlight effect causes us to feel shame.

Where does the spotlight effect come from?

So why does it happen? The spotlight effect is one of our many cognitive biases.

These biases arise and skew the way we perceive things when we rely too heavily on our own perspectives instead of actual facts. As a result, we fail to realise that in fact most of us are preoccupied with the same exact thoughts. Too caught up with ourselves to notice other people.

This is understandable. After all, the only direct interpretation we have of any situation would be through our own thoughts and emotions.

To us, we’re the centre of our own attention and we anchor our experiences through our own judgments. 

The spotlight effect, and our social anxiety

A few of us on the Bravely team could really resonate when we learned of the spotlight effect— it was even a relief to know it was an actual phenomena and not just something we’d imagined!  

On a personal level, it was only in retrospect that I realised how little I register others’ mistakes – especially when I’m too caught up with mine. Perhaps this would resonate with you too?

Whenever you’re faced with an embarrassing situation, ask yourself: how would you react if this had happened to somebody else?

Discovering and reflecting on the spotlight effect, made me realise that, I am but a side character for others. This was this simple introspection that alleviated my anxiety about how people might perceive me.


Looking to challenge your own social anxieties?

We have a tonne of useful content for you in our app. Many hours of searching research papers and text books to make sure that you have all the information you need to improve your social life, and feel better about your daily habits.

The Bravely app, is all of the best, most relevant information you could want, available for you in your pocket.

You can download and try it free, on iOS and Android.

Want to read some more articles on revenge bedtime procrastination, improving self-esteem or how your work team can function more efficiently.

Written By

Shenice Long

Hey I’m Shenice 🤗 I’m a Psychology undergraduate passionate in the field of mental health and wellbeing. Only as I grew older did I come to realise the importance of establishing a healthy connection between myself and my emotions and appreciated the importance of mental health. As an aspiring Clinical Psychologist, I hope to bring change in any way I can to the mental health scene that truly has so much more room for improvement!

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