Even if you have never heard about the spotlight effect, it is likely that it influences your perception without you even realizing it. It is a term in psychology which describes our tendency to think that everyone notices the nuances of our behaviour, appearance, etc.

What Causes the Spotlight Effect?

1. Egocentrism

Egocentrism is a term that refers to focusing on the ego (the self) and is the exaggerated exaltation of one’s personality. An egocentric person seeks to be the centre of attention and lives with the impression that all eyes are on him/her.

Psychologists emphasize that egocentrism has to do with believing that one’s opinions, interests, appearance or emotions are more important than those of others. The egocentric person seeks admiration and attention.

When a person focuses all their existence on themselves, the most obvious repercussion is the disconnection with the rest of the world, the lack of commitment and interest towards others.

However, egocentrism can also be a form of isolation. Focusing exclusively on one’s own needs lowers the chances of developing potential friendships. Many times, egocentric people are defined as individuals that can only love themselves. Thus, they will rarely empathize with the sufferings of those around them.

Consequently, egocentric individuals show hypersensitivity to the opinion of other people. Although s/he may not express it directly, the individual with an egocentric personality is inclined to feel offended by any criticism. S/he considers that others do not have sufficient authority to judge and that the criticism is probably due to the envy s/he arouses. Thus, they tend to excessively doubt people’s intentions and overestimate the attention they receive when they make mistakes in public.

2. False consensus effect

The effect of false consensus is the way both you and I project the way we think of others. Some people believe that others have a similar way of thinking to theirs.

It is the illusion to assume that most people think and feel the way we do. It is a bias of our mind that we can observe in every moment of our daily life. For example, extroverted and sociable individuals tend to think that there are more extroverts than introverts in the world.

In practice, we overestimate how others share our thoughts, perceptions and attitudes. People, often in a genuine way, believe they are excellent “intuitive psychologists“. They think it is easy enough to predict the perception or opinion of other people.

Hence, if the person mistrusts their own abilities, has a poor self-image or believes that the society will criticize their actions, they will be more likely to believe that people s/he comes in contact with constantly scrutinize him/her. Thus, this person will experience the spotlight effect.

3. Social anxiety

Social anxiety can cause a fear of being judged when being in public or interacting with groups of people. It can cause insecurity, anxiety and tension when one needs to be in touch with social groups. From these deep fears to denying contact with people is just one step.

No one likes to be judged, criticized or caught in unpleasant situations. But some individuals are so afraid of receiving negative reactions from others that it can grow into paranoia and panic attacks.

Dealing with the Spotlight Effect

Data from clinical and community studies have shown that the effects of spotlight phobia have a chronic evolution. Its symptoms can persist over a period of more than 20 years if not treated properly.

As with all anxiety disorders, there are two types of well-validated treatments, which can be applied independently or in combination: psychotherapy and medication.

Practically through Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, people with spotlight phobia learn that anxiety during social situations can be controlled, starting with their minds.

People learn how to deal with these situations without losing self-control. They learn that our minds tend to exaggerate unpleasant situations and people’s reactions. They are also taught how to correctly perceive the reactions of others and to find the positive aspects of their social experiences and even how to effectively deal with social interactions.

Additionally, some of the valuable techniques one can learn during psychotherapy are effective strategies for relaxing the body and the mind.

Anxiety is an exhausting emotional state for both the mind and the body precisely because it keeps the individual in a constant state of tension or restlessness. Therefore, a major goal in psychotherapy is to teach people how to relax through breathing procedures, muscle relaxation, and self-development.

How to Overcome the Spotlight Effect

1. Physical activity

Physical activity is an excellent stress management technique that relieves the symptoms of the spotlight effect. During exercises, endorphins will be released to improve your mood.

2. Think positively

Replace negative thoughts with positive ones. You may have already heard this advice, but this is actually a simple but very effective technique for managing your anxiety.

Do not live with the impression that people notice your every move or mistake. Sometimes people do not pay close attention to their surroundings. And even if they notice something, it is less probable that they will care enough to criticize or laugh at you.

3. Do not worry about what people think or think about you

This is very useful for people who want to overcome their social anxiety. You do not need the approval of others to make your life more exciting. Embrace your mistakes and learn from them.

4. Make the most of the situation you are in

Even if things do not turn out as you expected, do not let stress and worries affect your emotions or behaviour. Remember that the purpose of obstacles and mistakes is to help us grow.

5. Develop your self-confidence

Whether people watch you or not, learn to be yourself in any situation. Discover your qualities, embrace your flaws and make them work in your favour.

Have you ever experienced the spotlight effect? If yes, what were the symptoms and how did you deal with the situation?


  1. https://www.psychologytoday.com
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov

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