October 24, 2017
A glance at the clock tower reveals that your morning class started 11 minutes ago. With your phone in one hand and a latte macchiato in the other, you quicken your pace.
As you make your way through the building, you decide to ditch your beverage. You don’t want anyone to think you chose Starbucks over punctuality. To your horror, the classroom door is closed. You know that as soon as you open it, a dozen pairs of eyes will direct themselves your face.
But even though it felt like the whole classroom was judging you, there was nothing to worry about. Nobody was upset with you for coming in late; people’s eyes are naturally drawn to sound and movement.
While it’s true that someone might be annoyed by the brief distraction, most people honestly do not care. College is way too stressful to worry about why some random student came a few minutes late to class.
It’s natural to care about what people think about you, but you can’t ever really know for sure what they do think. Is there any point to worrying about it?
Anxiety is common, and most of us know the stress that comes from feeling anxious about people secretly judging us.
Health.com provides several remedies for anxiety, and one of them is to “stop catastrophizing.” The article explains that anxious minds blow situations out of proportion, and irrationally think that something terrible will happen. Be mindful of whether it’s rational to believe everyone in class is too focused on you.
Coupled with the sudden creak of the door opening and closing, one’s quick movement into a relatively still and quiet classroom would most definitely attract someone’s attention.
Nevertheless, one may worry about scrutiny for coming in late, even if no one seems to show it.
Three researchers, in their 1992 article, “Involuntary attentional capture by abrupt onsets,” reported evidence that it’s not the person coming in late; it’s the sudden distraction for the people watching them.
“Attention is captured by an irrelevant event despite subjects’ intentions to ignore the event,” the researchers state.
The experiments conducted included testing subjects with a “flash stimulus” while requiring them to ignore the distraction by focusing their attentions elsewhere. The researchers provided “strong incentives” to ignore the distractions.
Regardless, the subjects involuntarily responded to the sudden stimuli.
Researchers concluded that it is likely impossible to inhibit a response to an abrupt onset.
In the case of the latecomer scenario, it would be impossible for students (who may or may not be focused on the lecture) to ignore one’s sudden entry into the classroom.
Of course there are exceptions, such as your friends who expected you to come in on time, or that boy in the Colorado sweatshirt who has a crush on you and was wondering why you weren’t there.
But for the most part, everyone is far too focused on their own lives to worry about people that don’t have much influence on their lives.
So, next time you walk into the classroom 11 minutes late and everyone looks at you, remember that you’ve done nothing wrong—it’s just human nature.