In general, observational, or field, study may be regarded as a specific technique of social research that presupposes a particular phenomenon’s direct observation in natural settings. It is characterized by the absence of a quasi-artificial environment traditionally created for experimental research to control factors and manipulate variables. Thus, the current observational study will be organized in a natural and non-controlled environment to examine the impact of a particular interaction on people’s behavior. Taking into consideration social distancing guidelines issued by the CDC, the current study will exclude any physical contact with participants.
All in all, this study will focus on testing several hypotheses made on the basis of previous research. It will be dedicated to the examination of people’s behavior impacted by the deviation of social norms in the form of gazing from a stranger. According to Burra et al. (2019), “from an evolutionary perspective, it is argued that the processing of eye gaze has likely developed as a mechanism of (predatory) threat detection” (p. 1). In the present day, involved in the gazing of others and monitoring others’ attention, individuals receive valuable information necessary for social interaction.
Social psychology emphasizes the function of straight gaze in the signal of mutual attention and synchronization between people. Traditionally associated with approach-oriented emotions, straight gaze may be perceived in various ways, including the expression of dominance, intimacy, and interest, social evaluation, or social control (Burra et al., 2019). That is why it may cause self-evaluation and social awareness from observed people. In other words, they tend to demonstrate the most appropriate behavior being monitored. However, in the majority of cases, social evaluation causes social tension that leads to negative emotions, such as anxiety, nervousness, aggression, fear, distress, discomfort, and fear.
At the same time, other studies demonstrate opposite behavior affected by gazing. For instance, according to Zhou et al. (2018), “direct gaze blurred the self-other boundaries at both facial and conceptual levels” (p. 1). Blurring the self-other boundaries occurs in close relationships between people within the framework of “we are one” (Zhou et al., 2018). Typical for acquainted people, this merging may appear by total strangers. In this case, direct gaze may increase the perception of interpersonal closeness. It goes without saying that there are multiple factors that may affect the appearance of the self-other boundaries merging, including the environment and the purpose of strangers’ interaction. For instance, the impact of direct gaze on a person in the street and on a person who came for a blind date will be different. Nevertheless, the potential of gazing to evoke positive emotions in complete strangers in public places even if this behavior is traditionally regarded as the deviation of social norms should be investigated.
At the same time, a prevalent number of scholars evaluate the differences in behavior on the basis of gender. According to Koenig (2018), apart from behavioral patterns, there are both prescriptive and descriptive stereotypes concerning how men and women tend to and should behave. Thus, men are expected to be agentic, demonstrating independence, competitiveness, and assertiveness and avoiding weakness and emotional insecurity. In turn, women are expected to be communal, sensitive, warm, and cooperative and avoid dominance, arrogance, and aggressiveness (Koenig, 2018). In this case, the current observation study aims to evaluate how gender stereotypes concerning people’s behavior are realized in practice in relation to the identified intervention. At the same time, certain research connected with this subject has been already made. Thus, the study of Bareket et al. (2018) indicates that the sexually objectifying male gaze evokes women’s emotional tension, discomfort, social physique anxiety, self-evaluation, and even heightened body shame. Although gaze may be perceived in different ways, general tendencies may be traced and evaluated.
Finally, the attitude to a stranger’s gaze that presupposes a particular behavior may be impacted by culture, race, or ethnicity as well. According to the research of Gobel et al. (2020), people’s culture substantially affects the way they look at faces when contacting others. Thus, the representatives of the Western culture traditionally look at “a triangular space between the two eyes and the mouth” conducted by their analytic perceptual style typical for this culture (Gobel et al., 2020, p. 5). In turn, East Asians tend to focus on a speaker’s bridge of the nose due to holistic perceptual processing. While a person’s culture determines his attitude to almost all aspects of life and there is evidence that it impacts behavioral patterns during interpersonal contacts, the behavior of people who face gazing may also vary in dependence on their culture.
This, on the basis of the literature review, the following hypotheses for the observational study were identified:
- H1: When people face direct gaze, the majority of them express discomfort, anxiety, and fear.
- H2: When people face direct gaze, the majority of them express stay calm or express interest.
- H3: When women face direct gaze, the majority of them express discomfort, anxiety, and fear.
- H4: When men face direct gaze, the majority of them express aggression.
- H5: There is no correlation between a person’s reaction and gender in the case of direct gaze.
- H6: A person’s culture impacts his behavior in the case of direct gaze.
- H7: There is no correlation between a person’s reaction and his culture in the case of direct gaze.
- H8: There is a correlation between a person’s reaction and the observer’s gender in the case of direct gaze.
- H9: There is no correlation between a person’s reaction and the observer’s gender in the case of direct gaze.
The method of this qualitative research will be participant structured observation as a researcher will be involved in it through the intervention. There will be two observers, a woman and a man – this procedure is necessary for the testing of the last hypothesis.
The population of this research will be the visitors of a shopping center’s food court. There are no specific criteria for the choice of this population, and the location was chosen randomly as it allows to observe a large number of participants avoiding any physical contact. The methods of sampling will be availability and quota sampling.
Every observer will have three days to test three groups of hypotheses – a man will work for three days, and he will be replaced by a woman for three days in the same location. On the first day, every observer will randomly choose 100 people to perform direct gaze in order to evaluate general reaction. On the second day, every observer will randomly choose 50 men and 50 women to perform direct gaze in order to evaluate their reactions. On the third day, every observer will randomly choose 50 White participants and 50 non-White ones to perform direct gaze in order to evaluate their reactions as well. All data will be recorded in special forms; the gender and nationality of every person should be recorded as data from one day may complement the data of other days. Subsequently, all collected data will be analyzed to confirm or reject the identified hypotheses.
Will randomly choose 50 men and 50 women people to perform direct gaze in order to evaluate their reactions.
In general, all hypotheses will be divided into three major parts. H1 and H2 will be tested by both observers during their first day of observation. They are based on the studies of Burra et al. (2019) and Zhou et al. (2018). The observers aim to investigate what reactions dominate when people experience direct gaze from a stranger. The second group of hypotheses includes H3, H4, and H5, and here the observers will evaluate whether people’s reactions to direct gaze are presupposed by their gender and whether they are connected with gender-related stereotypes described by Koenig (2018). Finally, the last group of hypotheses includes H6, H7, and H8 to test the impact of participants’ culture on their reaction to direct gaze. H9 will be tested during all three days of the study. If the results of any day will substantially vary between observers, it will indicate the impact of their gender on participants’ responses. In general, it is expected to observe the expression of discomfort and anxiety from the majority of people, however, the impact of gender and culture remains unknown.
The proposed observational participant study will be dedicated to the examination of people’s behavior and reaction to direct gaze from a stranger in a public place. It aims to evaluate general reactions and the impact of a person’s gender and culture on his response. In addition, the impact of an observer’s gender on participants’ reactions in the case of direct gaze will be investigated as well. The study excludes any physical contact and meets the requirements of the CDC.
Bareket, O., Shnabel, N., Abeles, D., Gervais, S., & Yuval-Greenberg, S. (2019). Evidence for an association between men’s spontaneous objectifying gazing behavior and their endorsement of objectifying attitudes toward women. Sex Roles, 81(3), 245-256. Web.
Burra, N., Massait, S., & Vrtička, P. (2019). Differential impact of trait, social, and attachment anxiety on the stare-in-the-crowd effect. Scientific Reports, 9(1), 1-11. Web.
Gobel, M. S., Chen, A., & Richardson, D. C. (2017). How different cultures look at faces depends on the interpersonal context. Canadian Journal of Experimental Psychology, 71(3), 1-25.
Koenig, A. M. (2018). Comparing prescriptive and descriptive gender stereotypes about children, adults, and the elderly. Frontiers in Psychology, 9(1086), 1-13. Web.
Zhou, C., Jiang, T., & Zhu, L. (2018). Direct gaze blurs self-other boundaries. The Journal of General Psychology, 145(3), 1-16. Web.