All of us have had to deal with nosey people at some point in our lives. Noseyness is when someone whom we don’t want to interfere in our life does so. This unsolicited interference often manifests as questions and comments relating to our personal matters such as our health, career, and relationships.
Think about how you feel when someone pokes their nose into your personal affairs. You feel violated and resentful. Someone who didn’t have permission to invade your privacy did so. These negative feelings motivate you to negatively evaluate the nosey person and avoid interacting with them in the future.
Nosey people lack social skills
The degree to which we share our personal stuff with others depends on how close we are to them. You may have no problems sharing the details of your life with your spouse, friends, siblings or parents but you feel that random stranger who commented on your weight had no right to do so.
“Why can’t they just mind their own business?”
“Don’t they have anything to do?”
We never say these things to people we’re close to even if they pass the exact same comments. It’s normal and expected of them to interfere in our lives.
Assuming nosey people have got nothing else to do in their lives is unlikely to be true. What’s more likely is that they have terrible social skills. They think they’re on a level with you where they can ask you about your personal stuff but they’re wrong. They’ve misread or misunderstood your social signals. They don’t understand that people have boundaries. They don’t understand that people share their personal stuff with others selectively.
Often, if you give them negative feedback, letting them know that they’re not that close to you, they’ll recoil if they have brains. But some people so socially inept that no matter how many times you give them hints that they’re crossing the line, they just won’t understand.
Purpose of noseyness
Why are some people nosey in the first place?
The short answer is: they want information- information about you.
As social animals, we humans like to keep tabs on our peers. The primary reason for wanting to obtain information about other people is competition. People are nosey so that they can know how far you’ve come and where you’re going with your life. This helps them compare their own life with yours.
Again, being social animals, we are wired to evaluate our actions and measure our progress in relation to our peers. This is why the well-meaning, so-called wise people repeatedly advise: “Stop comparing yourself with other people”.
People can’t stop comparing themselves with other people. It’s a fact of human nature.
Noseyness takes this comparison to another level. Nosey individuals become so obsessed with comparing themselves to others that they make other people uncomfortable with their intrusions of privacy.
Noseyness arises from a place of insecurity. Those who’re not sure about the progress they’ve made in life will seek to re-assure themselves by being nosey with a desire to find out that others are behind too.
If nosey people do indeed find out that others are doing just as bad or worse than them, they feel good about themselves. On the contrary, if they find out that others are doing better than them, they feel crushed. You can almost sense the jealousy as they lower their voice and head in disappointment when you tell them about your progress.
Another purpose of noseyness is that it provides fodder for the gossipers. Some people derive their self-worth by being master gossipers in their circles. They want to know about your personal stuff so that they can later entertain their friends with the spicy news.
Lastly, by gaining knowledge about your plans, nosey people can get a chance to foil them. Competition.
Noseyness of relatives
If you’re unmarried, I’m sure you’ve got at least one uncle or aunt who’s particularly concerned about you getting married and having kids. You know, the one who’s always trying to hook you up with someone and believes you’ve reached the perfect age for marriage.
Why do relatives tend to partake in this behaviour? I’m yet to encounter a single person who doesn’t find this behaviour annoying and yet these relatives keep doing it as if it’s their God-given duty to have their kin married.
The answer lies in the inclusive fitness theory.
According to the theory, an individual can maximize their reproductive fitness by passing on as many of their genes to the next generation as possible. This can either be done directly (by them reproducing) or indirectly (encouraging their kin who share their genes to reproduce).
This is why your relatives care about your reproductive success. Your reproductive success contributes to their reproductive success. Since our parents and siblings are our closest kin (and share most of our genes), they care the most about our marriage aka reproductive success.
They show great interest in whom we get romantically involved with and provide suggestions pertaining to whom we should or shouldn’t commit to.
Friends do this too out of care even though they’re not genetically related to us but not to the same degree as relatives.
There’s a reason that the joke where an aunt tells a younger person “You’re next” at a wedding, and then the younger person says the same thing to her at a funeral, is so popular. It speaks to the frustrations and resentment that many young people feel for the noseyness of their relatives.
You must have noticed that it’s your mother who keeps tabs on the relationships of your cousins while your father doesn’t seem to give a damn. Research shows that women are more vigilant than men about the relationships of their relatives.1
This is because women, unlike men, have limited opportunities for direct reproductive success throughout their lives. So by maximizing their indirect fitness through relatives, they maximize their reproductive fitness.
The more resources you invest in your relatives, the greater the chances of their (and your) reproductive success. Interestingly, studies have shown that women have stronger nepotistic tendencies than men.2
This fits well with the notion that women would seek to maximize their indirect reproductive fitness.
What behaviours do you find nosey?
When we’re asked about our personal stuff by people we’re not close to, we perceive this behaviour as nosey. If you’re insecure this ‘personal stuff’, you’re more likely to find a behaviour nosey. It could be that the other person isn’t being so nosey after all but you see their behaviour as nosey because you’re insecure about your ‘personal stuff’.
For instance, you may have no problems disclosing your income to someone if you’re rich. But if you’re not rich, the question, “How much money do you make?” is seen by you as nosey.
Similarly, if you’re in great shape and someone asks you, “Have you lost weight?” you may gladly give them the details of your diet and workout regimen. When you’re struggling with controlling your weight, the exact same question by the exact same person becomes nosey.
- Faulkner, J., & Schaller, M. (2007). Nepotistic nosiness: Inclusive fitness and vigilance of kin members’ romantic relationships. Evolution and Human Behavior, 28(6), 430-438.
- Neyer, F. J., & Lang, F. R. (2003). Blood is thicker than water: Kinship orientation across adulthood. Journal of personality and social psychology, 84(2), 310.
Hi, I’m Hanan Parvez (MBA, MA Psychology), founder and author of PsychMechanics. I’ve written 280+ articles and published one book about human behavior on this blog that has garnered over 3 million views. PsychMechanics has been featured in Forbes, Business Insider, Reader’s Digest, and Entrepreneur.