We’ve all been there. You see a lone trash bag on the corner of a street, waiting for the salvation of being taken out of sight, and for a moment, you’re like 99.9% sure it’s a dog. In fact, a dark-haired Australian shepherd. It’s still a bag, but you’d bet on your soul it’s not.
First, you’re not going mad and second, the chances are, you have just experienced a phenomenon known as pareidolia. It happens when you see inanimate objects with faces or bearing some human-like appearance. And it’s something our crazy brains were wired to do and that’s looking for familiarity in virtually everything, even the most random and strange stuff.
So fasten your seatbelt, we’ve got you a fresh batch of hand-selected examples of pareidolia as compiled by Bored Panda to feast your eyes on. Psst! Check out more of this amusing stuff in our previous posts here, here, and here.
Previously, Bored Panda spoke with professor Kang Lee from the University of Toronto about seeing objects with faces, a phenomenon which has a perfectly scientific explanation.
"Pareidolia illustrates the interaction between the visual cortex and the frontal cortex of the human brain. It suggests that our brain is highly sensitive and expecting to encounter and process some special classes of objects in our environment because they are biological and socially important to our adaptions to the environment," Professor Lee explained to us.
In fact, our inner intention to detect things and patterns familiar to us is so strong that we often see them where no such thing could possibly exist. And we’re aware of it! "However, for some people, their frontal cortex’s expectation for certain objects becomes so high that they see faces in many situations where no faces exist."
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Although seeing things where they don’t exist, and especially human faces, may sound and feel like you’re going mad, Professor Lee assured us the phenomenon is totally normal and happens to many of us.
“There is nothing wrong with these individuals," he stressed. Turns out, “Pareidolia is different from paranoia or delusion or abnormal vision of individuals with psychosis.”
In fact, “a recent study shows that those people with pareidolia tend to be more creative,” the professor added. Also, some people can be more prone to seeing things than others, like those who are very religious, since they “may be able to see religious icons in non-face objects as well."
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“If someone reports seeing Jesus in a piece of toast, you’d think they must be nuts,” professor Lee previously told BBC Future. “But it’s very pervasive. We are primed to see faces in every corner of the visual world.” According to him, our imaginations exert a very powerful influence over our perceptions.
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Another theory about why we see faces in random objects and places has to do with the belief that we developed pareidolia as a survival mechanism. For example, Carl Sagan, an astronomer, suggests that pareidolia helps us recognize faces from a far distance and determine whether it’s the enemy or an ally we’re looking at.
He also believes that the feature was more prominent in babies. “Those infants who a million years ago were unable to recognize a face smiled back less, were less likely to win the hearts of their parents, and less likely to prosper." Some even claim that therefore, this survival allowed pareidolia to go through generations.