Pareidolia or pareidolytic illusion is a mental tendency for which one tends to identify familiar faces and figures on amorphous structures.
How many times have you stopped to look at a cloud trying to discover the shape of an animal or the contours of a face?
The term comes from Greek:
- εἴδωλον èidōlon, “image”,
- with the prefix παρά parà, “near”.
The association manifests itself especially in identifying the objects that surround us in face figures.
For example: the vision of animals or human faces in the clouds, the vision of a human face in the moon or the association of images with constellations.
Causes of Pareidolia
The explanations for this mental process are different.
This ability could be an atavistic legacy due to the need of our prehistoric ancestors to recognise a possible predator camouflaged among nature.
Being able to connect a few visible elements to identify a ferocious animal was necessary for the survival of the species!
Another reason could be the predisposition of our brain to recognise facial features and expressions which, even on different faces, differ quite little.
The spatial arrangement of the eyes and mouth or a smile that is the same on any face.
Our brain always tends to go further and when we see a face we also tend to look for more information, for example about its emotions and mood at that moment.
It is also called “sensory adaptation”, a visual illusion in which someone’s perception can change depending on what we have been confronted with or have seen recently.
Pareidolia often allows a rational explanation of apparently paranormal phenomena, such as the appearance of images on walls or the appearance of “ghosts” in photographs.
The ease with which we recognise faces that express emotions in extremely stylised signs such as emoticons can also be traced back to pareidolia.
There is in Japan, in Chichibu, the unique private museum Chinsekikan (“corridor of curious rocks”), a gallery of natural rocks resembling human faces, called jinmenseki.
Here are some funny photos, do you recognize what it looks like?