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Science & Technology

Scientists unlock the secrets of pareidolia

By T.K. Randall
July 7, 2021 · Comment icon 2 comments

The 'Face on Mars' is a famous example of pareidolia in action. Image Credit: NASA
From Bigfoot on the Moon to the face of Jesus in a piece of toast - why do we see faces where none exist ?
The brain's intriguing ability to make out face-like shapes in otherwise abstract patterns is something we've covered a lot over the years, but exactly how this process works and what the brain is actually doing when it picks out a face that doesn't exist - has long remained a bit of a mystery.

"From an evolutionary perspective, it seems that the benefit of never missing a face far outweighs the errors where inanimate objects are seen as faces," said study lead author Professor David Alais from the University of Sydney's school of psychology.

"There is a great benefit in detecting faces quickly, but the system plays 'fast and loose' by applying a crude template of two eyes over a nose and mouth."

"Lots of things can satisfy that template and thus trigger a face detection response."
In many ways this process can be likened to a computer program that scans an image and picks up on any shape or pattern that broadly matches its search criteria.

In humans, it can happen extremely quickly - within a tiny fraction of a second.

"We know these objects are not truly faces, yet the perception of a face lingers," said Prof Alais.

"We end up with something strange - a parallel experience that it is both a compelling face and an object. Two things at once."

Source: Sky News | Comments (2)

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Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #1 Posted by Jon the frog 3 years ago
Evolution given us a way to find rapidly a neanderthal creep in the wood waiting to throw a spear in our back? Just a way to incite fear and protect our punny sapiens life.
Comment icon #2 Posted by Seti42 3 years ago
It's not just important to notice faces from an evolutionary standpoint....It's also about knowing if something is looking at us and (if human) knowing which faces are friend or stranger or foe. In addition to pareidolia being a thing, we also can quickly recognize faces we've seen before.

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