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Face pareidolia: Can you see faces in everyday objects?

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Do you ever spot a face in an object? A bowling ball, an outlet, a car, a cup of coffee, or maybe a tree trunk?

Infinite items can reveal illusory faces if their components are arranged in slightly familiar configurations. “Just three dots can be enough to represent eyes and a mouth.” Why do our brains work like this?

A car with a face
The phenomenon is called face pareidolia, and it’s a byproduct of how crucial reading faces is for humans to understand each other. Even a brief glimpse of a face can reveal familiarity, emotions, and attentiveness, or influence snap judgments about trustworthiness and aggression.

From this TED-Ed lesson by Susan G. Wardle, directed by Oksana Kurmaz:

“To capture all this vital information, humans have evolved to be very sensitive to face-like structures. Whenever we see something, our brain immediately starts working to identify the new visual stimuli based on our expectations and prior knowledge. And since faces are so important, humans have evolved several regions of the brain that enable us to identify them faster than other visual stimuli.”

Seeing a face in the washing machine

“Whereas recognizing most objects takes our brain around a quarter of a second, we can detect a face in just a tenth of a second. It makes sense that we’d prioritize identifying faces over everything else. But brain imaging studies have revealed that regions may actually be too sensitive, leading them to find faces where they don’t exist.”

Measuring our ability to recognize faces
Dig deeper with TED-Ed, then enjoy these videos on TKSST:
β€’Β β€˜Eyebombing’ with googly eyes in Madrid
β€’Β The Stroop Test
β€’Β Three visual tricks that can mislead your brain
β€’Β The Secret World of Stuff
β€’Β Mr. Trash Wheel, Baltimore’s Trash-Collecting Water Wheel


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