Visual Illusion- Pareidolia

Pareidolia is an illusion, a visual phenomenon that occurs when a vague, undefiled stimulus is perceived as being distinct. It is a form of apophenia, which is the idea of observing a pattern in meaningless information or data. Leonardo da Vinci once said that pareidolia was a tool for painters to provoke viewers to interpret a simple set of colors and stains into something more, such as landscapes and complex expressions. Recently, a chicken nugget that resembled US President George Washington had earned more than $8,100 on eBay.

You might observe a resemblance of a face in the images below. The first one is an image taken in 1976 by the Viking Orbiter of a rock formation having somewhat of a resemblance to a human face. Newer and clearer images of the same Cydonia region in Mars show a simple set of lines that had previously been thought of as a human face. The second image is of a set of clouds that also show features that coincide with that of a face.

Dr. Nouchine Hadjikhani of Harvard University stated that humans are “prewired” to detect faces from birth, and that “If you take a baby just after a few minutes of life, he will direct his attention toward something that has the general features of a face versus something that has the same elements but in a random order.” Sophie Scott, a neuroscientist in University College London, also expressed that pareidolias can be a product of people’s expectations. People also strongly believe that pareidolias are a supernatural phenomena.

Whether they be pure coincidence or the work of a supernatural force, they are extremely interesting to observe and understand. Their use in artwork especially causes people to dig deeper than just the simple shapes and lines, allowing them to come up with their own depictions of the work.

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4 responses to “Visual Illusion- Pareidolia”

  1. Madiha Shafquat says:

    I’ve heard of pareidolias before, but I never knew that the identification of faces was intrinsic rather than learned.

  2. Carlos Aizenman says:

    When we had a new fence installed in my yard there was an area that clearly looked like Jesus. I thought of selling it on ebay, but didn’t feel like getting a new fence.

  3. Grace Frost says:

    The instinctive nature of why we respond to neutral stimuli in this way is pretty incredible!

  4. Aliya Saffran says:

    I had never heard of or seen this illusion before. It was very interesting to find out about this and how it works!

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