Threat assessment, in a glance

In about the time it takes to bat an eye, we can behave in ways that reveal volumes about ourselves.  Here is one moment, that happened today.  I’m walking back after my exercise routine, and a young lady is standing in front of gym lockers, fiddling with her phone or something.  She’s tall, young, fit, wearing skin tight clothes and shorts, and generally eye-catching.  Let’s call her Willow.  I’d seen her earlier that day, so I didn’t need to watch her again.  The instant I passed Willow, another woman came around the corner towards me on a collision course.  I have to adjust, and so does she.  We’ve both done this thousands of times (with other people!), so we don’t have to think about it.  But I’m watching her closely, in order to make sure we don’t collide, and because I like to watch people.

She’s also dressed tastefully, but appropriate to her age, mid 50s.  Let’s call her Fran.  She’s shorter than I, and moving with a purpose.  She should also be worrying about hitting me, and the first part of her glance takes in my face and then darts away.  Fran’s body moved to her right, I moved to my right, and crisis averted.  It’s what she did next that is the most interesting.

She scanned Willow.  Not just a moment’s glance, it was a hard driven, full-length all-encompassing deep scan.  In the amount of time it takes to type one of these words, she read Willow like a book.

Why?  Why did she find Willow so much more interesting than me?  After all, Fran and I were on a collision course.

Threats.  We are built to assess threats, and if something threatens us, we check it out.  I was heading right for her, about to collide.  I’m a big guy (relative to Fran) and could be dangerous.  But she’s probably seen me before and she feels safe in the gym.  At the same time there’s Willow, so she spends more time sizing her up.  Why?

Because she could be a threat.  Not a “don’t hit me” threat, but a female threat.  To her husband, to her boys, to some other male friend, perhaps?  It’s deep, but women will first size up another woman deeply in order to determine how threatening they may be.

Don’t agree?  Let me have it!


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