The idea of being a social media voyeur — watching the lives of others to the point of obsession — is so ingrained in our culture that there are films based around the concept: the premise of the new flick Ingrid Goes West, starring Aubrey Plaza and Elizabeth Olsen, is about a woman invading the life of a girl she's been observing over Instagram. While Plaza's character is clearly meant to be unhinged, the idea of social media observation is a very modern occupation. Once upon a time, those curious about their neighbors had to resort to peeking from behind their blinds. These days, the mundane lives of others are spread out across the internet for our easy consumption — though, of course, they're often carefully curated to hide flaws. It's no secret that people love to snoop on social media, but the reason why may be more biological than technological.
Snooping around on social media can be intentional — looking to see if an ex has a new partner, for example, or whether your relatives are saying offensive things about politics — or simply part of the everyday perusal of your various social media feeds. But the fact that consumption of information about others is an inherent, normalized part of the vastly popular social media experience doesn't surprise evolutionary psychologists at all. And science has revealed interesting things about the ways in which we snoop, what we get out of it, and why social media is part of a much, much older human tradition of innate curiosity about others.