Is there a documented name for the phenomenon of repeated social interruptions. It's something I've discussed with others who seem to share the observation that often, when one is alone in a public space, others will consistently run into them.

One example is in single stall bathrooms. This is one that I've discussed with others, to much amusement: it seems that whenever I find an unattended public restroom, even in a secluded space away from population, more often than not someone will approach and knock within seconds.

Another would be driving along a typically empty road late at night, and having someone follow every single turn you take up until you get home, where they turn around and go from whence you both came, making seemingly no sense.

Obviously, this is a cognitive bias of some sort and likely not truly indicative of some social behavior. It reminds me of the spotlight effect, but the spotlight effect is defined as heightened self awareness, no? This seems to happen regardless of that, like there are people just waiting around to stumble upon oneself at the most inopportune times.

Paranoia might be one word for it, but talking with others anecdotally, it seems like most people have had this thought before.

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    $\begingroup$ Either 'paranoia' or 'being under surveillance', depending on how much the perception meshes with reality? $\endgroup$ – bukwyrm Jun 26 '18 at 16:02
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    $\begingroup$ I mean, that could be it, but I think that's conflating a mental health symptom with something I feel most people can relate to at some point. The feeling of always being in the wrong place at the wrong time, so to speak. It's less the fear of such a thing happening and prediction, but more the cognitive bias of looking back and thinking, "wow, that sure happens a lot!". When, obviously, it probably doesn't; it just feels that way. $\endgroup$ – nostalgk Jun 26 '18 at 16:09
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    $\begingroup$ Clustering Illusion? Apophenia (though you'd additionally need assumed meaningfulness for that)? $\endgroup$ – bukwyrm Jun 26 '18 at 16:23
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    $\begingroup$ I think Apophenia is on the right track; the meaningfulness might not be "they're out to get me", but more "wow there must be something about this road/room". Either way, there is some meaningfulness being prescribed to the random actions, at least in the moment. $\endgroup$ – nostalgk Jun 26 '18 at 16:31
  • $\begingroup$ @nostalgk yep, apophenia is correct -- identifying meaning in things which to others would be nothing but noise. another term might be aberrant salience. $\endgroup$ – faustus Jun 27 '18 at 10:58

I would classify this as a cognitive bias. Specifically, selection bias:

Selection bias is the bias introduced by the selection of individuals, groups or data for analysis in such a way that proper randomization is not achieved, thereby ensuring that the sample obtained is not representative of the population intended to be analyzed.

These are 'every day' actions you describe. They are not very memorable. In contrast, when encountering such interruptions during these otherwise 'normal' actions they become more memorable and stick with you.

Consequently, this then leads to a selection bias: only the interrupted actions come to mind immediately. If you were to systematically count how many times this occurs it would be less frequent than it seems.


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