As a woman who goes outside almost every day, I’m used to people looking at me for all kinds of different reasons. Whether I’m making brief but steamy eye contact with a very symmetrical stranger at CVS, or getting glared at for bumping someone with my overstuffed tote bag on the bus, it’s usually pretty apparent that I’m being observed, for better or worse.
In certain scenarios, it can be tougher to parse who’s looking where: on a crowded train, across a packed bar, waiting for coffee during the morning rush at Starbucks, whatever. If you’re unsure if the babe in your general proximity noticed you, too, there’s a little trick that I’ve found to be a semi-reliable indicator of whether I’m being watched: It’s called mirroring, and it’s the closest thing to a flirting “lifehack” in my arsenal.
In a 1999 study, psychologists defined mirroring (also known as “the chameleon effect”) as “nonconscious mimicry of the postures, mannerisms, facial expressions, and other behaviors of one's interaction partners.” It’s long been touted as a strategy that Successful People can employ strategically to show their engagement during job interviews or at work, because research has shown that intentional mirroring can positively influence the way someone is perceived—although other studies have shown that it’s also possible to go overboard with mirroring and verge into creep territory in the eyes of the person you’re mimicking.
But you’re not here because you want a job. You’re here because you want to know how to figure out if a hot person is looking at you. The answer is simple: throw out some kind of gesture and see who copies you. I’d recommend something simple, like crossing or uncrossing your legs, scratching your nose, cracking your knuckles, or even looking pointedly in one direction and seeing who follows your gaze to check out what you’re checking out while you’re getting checked out. Not to brag, but I can make a few guys look out of a train window for no reason on a good day, and I’m not above doing it in the interest of getting a little attention.
I’m not pulling this out of thin air, either: A simple Google search for ‘mirroring flirt’ turns up articles from the likes of BBC Science and Marie Claire that list the behavior as a sign that someone might have seduction on the brain. So why isn’t everyone using mirroring to figure out who’s making eyes at who? I can only conclude that my years of experience analyzing the messages conveyed consciously and unconsciously by the human body (I did theatre in high school) have left me with particularly keen powers of observation that the average person has not had the same chance to hone. I’m basically Mindhunter if Mindhunter was about having charged, nonverbal interactions with guys who wear wallet chains. You’re all welcome to join me and my galaxy brain in 3019; it’s great here!
Of course, once you’ve figured out who’s watching you, it’s kind of up to you (and the watcher) what happens next. Not everybody watches with intent or enjoys getting hit on in public, so I’d recommend making some eye contact with your copycat and reading the room from there—do not use my pseudoscience flirt hack as free license to harass a rando! Because even though we’re almost always being looked at by some unknown individual when we’re out and about, how we’re being perceived is another question entirely.
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