Face pareidolia is a very human condition that relates to how our brains are wired


If you tend to notice faces in inanimate objects around you like the scowling face of a house, a surprised bowling ball, or a grimacing apple, you’re not alone.

‘Face pareidolia’ – the phenomenon of seeing faces in everyday objects – is a very human condition that relates to how our brains are wired.

And now research from UNSW Sydney has shown we process these “fake” faces using the same visual mechanisms of the brain that we do for real ones.

In a paper published in the journal Psychological Science, lead researcher Dr. Colin Palmer, from UNSW Science’s School of Psychology, says seeing faces in everyday objects is very common, which is highlighted by the many memes and web pages devoted to it on the internet.

“Pages on websites like Flickr and Reddit have accumulated thousands of photographs of everyday objects that resemble faces, contributed by users from across the world,” he says.

“A striking feature of these objects is that they not only look like faces but can even convey a sense of personality or social meaning. For example, the windows of a house might feel like two eyes watching you, and a capsicum might have a happy look on its face.”

But why does face pareidolia occur?

Dr. Palmer says to answer this question we need to look at what face perception involves. While human faces all look a bit different, they share common features, like the spatial arrangement of the eyes and the mouth.

“This basic pattern of features that defines the human face is something that our brain is particularly attuned to, and is likely to be what draws our attention to pareidolia objects.

But face perception isn’t just about noticing the presence of a face.

We also need to recognize who that person is, and read information from their face, like whether they are paying attention to us, and whether they are happy or upset.”

This process relies on parts of our brains that are specialized to extract this type of information from what we see, Dr. Palmer says. In the study carried out with UNSW colleague Professor Colin Clifford, the researchers tested whether the same mechanisms in the brains that extract important social information when one person looks at another are also activated when we experience face pareidolia.

They tested this using the process known as “sensory adaptation,” a kind of visual illusion where one’s perception is affected by what has recently been seen.

“If you are repeatedly shown pictures of faces that are looking towards your left, for example, your perception will actually change over time so that the faces will appear to be looking more rightwards than they really are,” says Dr. Palmer.

“There is evidence that this reflects a kind of habituation process in the brain, where cells involved in detecting gaze direction change their sensitivity when we are repeatedly exposed to faces with a particular direction of gaze.”

For example, people who were repeatedly exposed to faces that were looking to the left would, when presented with a face looking directly at them, say that the other’s eyes were looking somewhat to the right. This phenomenon has been noted in past studies, says Dr. Palmer.

“We found that repeated exposure to pareidolia faces that conveyed a specific direction of attention (for example, objects that appeared to be ‘looking towards the left’) caused a change in the perception of where human faces are looking,” he says.

“This is evidence of overlap in the neural mechanisms that are active when we experience face pareidolia and when we look at human faces.”

What this means, say the researchers, is if you feel like a pareidolia object is looking at you, or conveys some sort of emotion, “it may be because the features of the object are activating mechanisms in your brain that are designed to read that kind of information from human faces.”

“So we think face pareidolia is a kind of visual illusion. We know that the object doesn’t really have a mind, but we can’t help but see it as having mental characteristics like a ‘direction of gaze’ because of mechanisms in our visual system that become active when they detect an object with basic face-like features.”

Evolutionary advantage

Dr. Palmer thinks face pareidolia is a product of our evolution, noting that studies have observed the phenomenon among monkeys, suggesting the brain function has been inherited from primates.

“Our brain has evolved to facilitate social interaction, and this shapes the way that we see the world around us.

There is an evolutionary advantage to being really good or really efficient at detecting faces, it’s important to us socially.

It’s also important in detecting predators.

So if you’ve evolved to be very good at detecting faces, this might then lead to false positives, where you sometimes see faces that aren’t really there.

Another way of putting this is that it’s better to have a system that’s overly sensitive to detecting faces, than one that is not sensitive enough.”

In addition to confirming how our brains process faces, the study could raise new questions about our understanding of cognitive disorders relating to facial recognition.

“Understanding face perception is important when you consider conditions or traits like face prosopagnosia, which is the inability to recognize faces, and the autism spectrum, which can include difficulties in reading information from other people’s faces, such as their emotional state,” Dr. Palmer says.

“And so the longer-term goal of this kind of research is to understand how difficulties in face perception and everyday social functioning can come about.”

Next, the researchers plan to investigate in more detail the specific brain mechanisms involved in ‘reading’ social information from another person’s face, and whether these mechanisms can operate differently in different people.

Have you ever seen a face in mountains, clouds or everyday objects?

If you have, you experienced face pareidolia, a psychological phenomenon of seeing faces in non-face objects or patterns. As a common form of apohenia, the human tendency to perceive meaningful patterns from random data, face pareidolia reveals a particular preference for faces when observing ambiguous stimuli in the real world.

Some noted examples of face pareidolia include a face on Mars, the Virgin Mary in a piece of toast, Mother Teresa in a cinnamon bun, and the face of testicular pain (Roberts & Touma, 2011).

Recently, studies have shown that face pareidolia is not restricted to human cognition. Non-human primates are found to have a strong viewing preference toward objects containing pareidolia face, suggesting that they also perceive face pareidolia from inanimate objects.

Monkeys would fixate on illusory facial features (i.e., eyes and mouth) in a consistent pattern with real-face photographs, but in a distinct fixation pattern with matching non-face objects.

These results suggest the existence of a broadly tuned face-detection system shared across species (Taubert, Wardle, Flessert, Leopold, & Ungerleider, 2017).

Then, what exactly happens in the brain when experiencing face pareidolia? Using magnetoencephalography (MEG), researchers found that when non-face objects are perceived as faces, they would evoke early (∼170 ms) activation of face fusiform area (FFA), in a similar way to face processing (Hadjikhani, Kveraga, Naik, & Ahlfors, 2009).

In another functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) study, researchers discovered that activity in the FFA is strongly modulated by the perception of a pareidolia face, with high tolerance to visual feature variations at the image level (Wardle, Seymour, & Taubert, 2017).

Furthermore, bottom-up and top-down factors have been proposed to contribute to pareidolia face processing (Liu et al., 2014; Meng, Cherian, Singal, & Sinha, 2012; Nihei, Minami, & Nakauchi, 2018; Paras & Webster, 2013).

However, while human brains seem to be hard-wired for face detection, the subjective face pareidolia experience varies from individual to individual. Some claim to see faces everywhere, while others find it difficult to detect faces in unusual locations.

Here we will first review and categorize previous findings on individual differences in face pareidolia experience. Then we will discuss how the individual differences can be understood within a theoretical framework and what neural mechanisms may underlie the individual differences.

Finally, regarding its variation among populations, how we can benefit from the research of face pareidolia will also be discussed.

Previous findings of individual differences in face pareidolia

We will first give a mini-review about previous findings of individual differences in face pareidolia experience. Based on the subject population used for comparison in the studies, we sorted the findings into four major categories, including sex (male vs. female), developmental factors (development during infancy period), personality traits (high vs. low trait population), and neurodevelopmental factors (clinical population vs. typical-development population).

Note that the division here is not exclusive. We attempted to clearly present the pareidolia findings in a way that could speak to other established findings in broader fields and shed light on understanding relevant perceptual processes.

Sex differences in face pareidolia experience

Mounting evidence has shown a female advantage in face perception and cognition (Lewin & Herlitz, 2002; Lewin, Wolgers, & Herlitz, 2001; Sommer, Hildebrandt, Kunina-Habenicht, Schacht, & Wilhelm, 2013). For instance, women outperform men in typical face recognition tasks (old/new face judgment; Herlitz, Nilsson, & Bäckman, 1997), in face emotion recognition tasks (i.e., more accurate and sensitive in labeling facial expressions; Hampson, van Anders, & Mullin, 2006; Montagne, Kessels, Frigerio, de Haan, & Perrett, 2005), as well as in face gender recognition tasks (Cellerino, Borghetti, & Sartucci, 2004; Sun, Gao, & Han, 2010).

Especially, the female advantage in recognizing female faces (own-sex bias) was found for both women and girls irrespective of face ethnicity and age (Herlitz & Rehnman, 2008; Lewin & Herlitz, 2002; Rehnman & Herlitz, 2006).

To investigate whether there is a gender difference in face pareidolia experience, Pavlova, Scheffler, and Sokolov (2015) created a set of food-plate images that were composed of food ingredients (e.g., fruits, vegetables) and may resemble faces.

They discovered a gender difference in the tendency to recognize a face in such Arcimboldo-style images (Pavlova et al., 2015). The results showed that adult women not only more readily report seeing a face (while men still see it as food composition), but also give more overall face responses, indicating the superiority of female brains in terms of face tuning.

A later study reported that such gender specificity is subject to cultural modulation (Pavlova, Heiz, Sokolov, Fallgatter, & Barisnikov, 2018).

Proverbio and Galli (2016) explored the neural underpinnings of the sex difference using event-related potential (ERP) technique. The face-selective occipito/temporal N170 for face pareidolia is similar to that of faces, but does not show any sex differences.

However, the vertex positive potential (VPP) recorded at frontal sites exhibited a sex difference when seeing face pareidolia.

Specifically, for women, the VPP responses to pareidolia faces were of equal amplitude to those for faces; but for men, the VPP responses to pareidolia faces were of intermediate amplitude between those elicited by faces and objects.

It has been speculated that VPP arose from the limbic system rather than face-selective regions (i.e., FFA), and might reflect the sexual differences in face relevance/salience encoding (Proverbio & Galli, 2016).

Furthermore, source reconstruction analysis provided stronger evidence for sexual dimorphism in pareidolia face processing.

In the female brain, activation of a wider range of brain areas involved in the affective processing of faces were observed, including right STS (BA22), posterior cingulate cortex (BA30), and orbitofrontal cortex (BA10).

In comparison, in the male brain, pareidolia face perception was associated with the activation of occipital/parietal regions, together with a much smaller activation of the orbitofrontal cortex.

These results suggested differential pareidolia face encoding between males and females, with the female brain engaging more in affective and social processing.

How can the sex difference in face pareidolia perception be related to previous findings in other face-related tasks?

Why do females have an advantage in face-related cognition?

Some researchers have found that from infancy period, girls start to show a stronger interest in faces than boys, by spending more time looking at faces (Connellan, Baron-Cohen, Wheelwright, Batki, & Ahluwalia, 2000).

Adult women also have higher interest in social aspects of daily life than men (Su, Rounds, & Armstrong, 2009). It is possible that the female superiority in face-related cognition can be partially explained by a social involvement difference between females and males (Sommer et al., 2013).

In addition, some neuroimaging findings revealed mirrored neural correlates of the female advantage in face processing. Using fMRI, researchers found that girls and women have larger FFAs compared to boys and men (Tahmasebi et al., 2012), and larger volumes of FFA activations have been associated with better performance in face recognition (Furl, Garrido, Dolan, Driver, & Duchaine, 2011; Golarai, Liberman, Yoon, & Grill-Spector, 2010).

In general, face processing is believed to be right-hemisphere dominant while the processing of common objects is not. Interestingly, women are found to have a much lesser degree of lateralization than men for face coding and facial emotion processing (Bourne, 2005; Proverbio, Riva, Martin, & Zani, 2010; Rahman & Anchassi, 2012).

The more bilateral distributed responses in females indicate greater access to mechanisms located in each hemisphere and thus interhemispheric facilitation for face recognition (Bourne, 2005). Further discussion about how to understand the sex difference in face pareidolia experience can be found in the next section.

Development of face pareidolia experience in infancy

It has been well established that newborns (<1 hour old) already show an innate viewing preference for protofacial stimuli, but then this preference declines after a few months (Johnson, Dziurawiec, Ellis, & Morton, 1991; Morton & Johnson, 1991).

The face viewing preference will re-establish later in life, as a result from maturation of corresponding cortical areas. An interesting question is, however, when do infants start to perceive face pareidolia?

Kato and Mugitani (2015) used sound-mouth association to explore whether infants perceive face pareidolia from non-face objects. Some studies have reported that sound-mouth association is established in 8- to 12-month-olds, who show a viewing preference for the mouth area than the eye area during sound presentation (Lewkowicz & Hansen-Tift, 2012; Tenenbaum, Shah, Sobel, Malle, & Morgan, 2013). Kato and Mugitani (2015) found that after a pure tone display, infants 10 and 12 months of age prefer to look at the bottom blob of a four-blob contoured image, but not infants who are 8 months old. These results suggest that infants 8–10 months of age come to experience face pareidolia “knowing” in advance about the “mouth” in a diamond-shape object (Kato & Mugitani, 2015).

In another study, when using Arcimboldo images, researchers found that 7- and 8-month-old infants prefer to look at upright images than the inverted ones, but 5- and 6-month-old infants do not (Kobayashi et al., 2012). Their results indicate that from 7 to 8 months, infants can already perceive the upright Arcimboldo images as faces.

The age difference for infants to experience face pareidolia from these two studies might be due to the stimuli used, with Arcimboldo images having much richer visual information than a four-blob image (Kato & Mugitani, 2015).

Taken together, these results showed that the perception of pareidolia faces develops at a very early stage of life (∼8 months), and thus offer evidence to support the hypothsis that face pareidolia is associated with early development.

Mounting evidence has validated the fast development of face processing in the very first months of life. For instance, between 3 and 7 months, infants begin to be able to robustly recognize upright faces better than inverted faces (Fagan, 1972), and categorize faces by gender (Cohen & Strauss, 1979) and by facial expressions (Ludemann & Nelson, 1988). Besides, it has been found that the brain activity in 6-month-old infants can already discriminate faces versus non-face objects during visual information processing.

The P400 component at occipital electrodes shows shorter latency for faces than for familiar or unfamiliar objects (De Haan & Nelson, 1999). It seems that the development trajectory of pareidolia face perception closely follows the development of face recognition and other object categorization abilities.

It is plausible that the functional specialization of the brain for face and object processing is the essential neural basis for illusory face perception to occur.

Personality traits influence face pareidolia experience

Would any special population be more likely to see pareidolia faces where no face actually exists?

An intuitive speculation would be those with paranormal and religious beliefs. Believers around the world have posted online extensive lists where they see Jesus, from a cut-open orange to a crumpled sock, taken as a blessing for their ritual practices (Burns, 2011; Moore, 2012).

A group of researchers tested the hypothesis in 2013 and found that strong believers in paranormal phenomena and religions are not only better at detecting pareidolia faces than skeptics and non-believers, but are also more prone to report false alarms in non-face pictures (Riekki, Lindeman, Aleneff, Halme, & Nuortimo, 2013).

The results are consistent with earlier findings that paranormal believers incline to report meaningful patterns (i.e., face or word) out of meaningless inputs (Krummenacher, Mohr, Haker, & Brugger, 2010).

In addition, other researchers found that individuals with higher positive-psychotic personality traits are more likely to see complex meaning in noise patterns (Partos, Cropper, & Rawlings, 2016).

The positive-psychotic subtype of schizotypy concerned with unusual experiences (e.g., hallucinations) has been found to be associated with personal well-being and creativity (Mohr & Claridge, 2015).

Partos et al. (2016) further found that the bias to see things in pure noise is associated with reduced sensitivity to the real presence of a vague stimulus, indicating a faulty system in those with high positive schizotypy.

Epley, Akalis, Waytz, and Cacioppo (2008) investigated whether mood state (e.g., chronically lonely or induced to feel disconnected from the others) alters how people interpret inanimate objects.

The results showed that social disconnection increases the tendency to anthropomorphize non-human gadgets and to detect human-like agents (e.g., a face) in ambiguous drawings (Epley et al., 2008). However, a follow-up study failed to replicate this finding (Sandstrom & Dunn, 2013).

What can the connection between face pareidolia and personality traits tell us?

Is face pareidolia related to top-down influences from higher-level beliefs or knowledge?

It has been proposed that face pareidolia requires a match between external visual input and internal face templates. Using fMRI, researchers found that when an illusory face was detected from pure noise images, it was associated with blood-oxygen-level-dependent (BOLD) imaging activity in the face-selective areas, including bilateral OFA and FFA (Liu et al., 2014; Zhang et al., 2008; but see Zimmermann, Stratil, Thome, Sommer, & Jansen, 2019).

Further whole brain analysis revealed a distributed network extending from the ventral occipitotemporal cortex to the prefrontal cortex and sublobar regions, indicating the activation of the internal face templates and top-down modulation on the external input.

From the individual differences’ perspective, the balance between bottom-up and top-down processes may shift towards the top-down processes more in some individuals than others. One possible cause is that their bottom-up facial signals are weaker than others, as in the individuals with higher positive-psychotic personality traits.

An alternative is that their top-down modulation (e.g., expectation to see faces) is stronger than others, as in those with paranormal and religious beliefs. It still needs further investigations about how exactly higher-level personality traits influence lower-level visual perception.

Pareidolia experience in patients with neurodevelopmental conditions

In this section, we will review articles about population differences in experiencing face pareidolia among typical developing populations and individuals with neurodevelopmental disorders. Over the last few years, researchers have tested patients with various disorders using pareidolia materials, and the results turn out to be in two divergent directions.

In 2012, a group of Japanese researchers developed the pareidolia test to try to establish a quantitative measure of pareidolia to discriminate between dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB) and Alzheimer’s disease (Uchiyama et al., 2012).

The occurrence of visual hallucination has been a diagnostic basis to differentiate the two.

In particular, DLB patients may experience complex visual hallucinations (e.g., faces or bodies) more frequently than simple visual hallucination (e.g., flashes or dots; Mosimann et al., 2006). Uchiyama et al. (2012) found that patients with DLB reported much more pareidolia experience than those with Alzheimer’s disease or controls, and the number of pareidolia responses was correlated with hallucination scores on the Neuropsychiatric Inventory.

They argued that pareidolia shares phenomenological similarities and may reflect susceptibility to visual hallucinations. Later, Uchiyama et al. (2015) discovered that patients with Parkinson’s disease (PD) without dementia also produced more pareidolia responses than the controls, and both pareidolia and visual hallucinations are associated with posterior cortical dysfunction.

Furthermore, researchers found pareidolia experiences are more easily elicited in patients with idiopathic rapid eye movement (REM) sleep behavior disorder (iRBD). Interestingly, iRBD patients with pareidolia showed symptoms suggesting that they belong to a subgroup close to DLB (Sasai-Sakuma, Nishio, Yokoi, Mori, & Inoue, 2017).

Högl commented their findings were “not only another fast and convenient test for neurodegeneration in iRBD, but also has the potential to indicate a more specific pathologic profile and clinical endpoint” (Högl, 2017).

By contrast, there are also cases in which face pareidolia experience was less frequently reported than the typically developing population. Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) children and teenagers have been found to have profound deficits in recognition of faces from face-like ambiguous stimuli; not only do they have higher thresholds for face recognition than typically developing controls (reporting negative responses on images that TD already report seeing a face), but they also make overall fewer face responses (Pavlova et al., 2017; Ryan, Stafford, & King, 2016).

Similar results were also found for William syndrome (Pavlova, Heiz, Sokolov, & Barisnikov, 2016) and Down syndrome populations (Pavlova, Galli et al., 2018). However, the reasons behind reduced face pareidolia in ASD, William syndrome and Down syndrome might not be the same. Deficits in social interaction and communication have been characterized as a key symptom of ASD, which may be associated with their atypical face encoding processes.

However, William syndrome individuals tend to have a hyper-social personality profile that drives for increased social interactions. Down syndrome individuals have delayed cognitive development but relatively strong social skills. The reasons responsible for individual differences in face pareidolia among clinical populations would need further investigations.

Understanding individual differences in face pareidolia experience

From the mini-review above, one can easily find a huge diversity in the face pareidolia experience among the population. We list more details about the subject population recruited in those studies together with the materials and specific task demands in Table 1.

Altogether, those studies were pooled over a relatively large population, ranging from infants only months old to elderly people, from typical-developing populations to neurodevelopmental patients. However, how to understand the individual/group differences remains a challenging question to be explored.

As was advised by one of the reviewers, some factors may interplay with each other. For instance, sex might be an obvious confounding factor for people with ASD to have less face pareidolia experience.

As is revealed by previous reviews, ASD happens more often in boys and men than in girls and women (Mandy et al., 2012; Werling & Geschwind, 2013). In the two studies that examined pareidolia experience in an ASD population, there is also an obvious sex bias in the pooled subjects (male/female: 1/15 in Pavlova et al., 2017; 14/46 in Ryan et al., 2016).

Although it is still not clear about how exactly sex impacts ASD and how these two factors influence pareidolia experience, it indicates the underlying linkage between sex and ASD and pareidolia processing, and therefore generates new possibilities for understanding the underlying mechanisms.

In the following section, we propose three possible ways to dig into the experimental data that may bridge the findings in pareidolia with other researches in the broader fields.

Table 1. A summary of reviewed papers on individual differences in face pareidolia experience

Origin of face pareidolia: Innate or acquired?

Here we would like to discuss how individual differences in face pareidolia experience is generated from innate characteristics or influenced by acquired tendencies. By saying that characteristics are innate, we mean they are carved in the genes.

It has been proposed that pareidolia has its roots in biological and evolutionary selection and may bring advantages for detecting potential danger (e.g., imagining when there is a tiger in the woods).

Do some people see more faces in non-face objects or ambiguous patterns because their brain is hard-wired differently to more readily detect faces?

Alternatively, do they have more face pareidolia experiences because they have learned to perceive in that way?

Perhaps due to excessive exposures to animated cartoon characters?

Or due to believing in god or pantheism?

Similar to the debate on whether face recognition ability is inherited or learned through experience (Kelly et al., 2007; Pascalis, de Haan, & Nelson, 2002; Shakeshaft & Plomin, 2015; Wilmer et al., 2010), the answer regarding the origin of face pareidolia experience will not be a simple yes or no.

Note that sex differences in the mini-review above should not be taken as a purely innate factor, as they are also subject to being shaped by culture and social environment effects later in life. Researchers have found that female brains have a stronger anthropomorphizing bias than male brains (Proverbio & Galli, 2016).

One possible reason for this might be that female brains are naturally developed to be more sensitive to social and emotional information.

Alternatively, it might be because women are better than men in understanding emotions and having empathy (Eisenberg & Lennon, 1983; Hoffman, 1977). Even though the ultimate answer might be difficult to seek, the question of innate or acquired individual differences would shed light for directing future research.

For instance, it would be of great interest to find out whether perceptual training may lead to an increase or decrease of pareidolia face detection.

Interplay between two systems: perceptual processing and affective processing

The actual objects that generate pareidolia faces may vary distinctively, from a cut-open pepper to a car’s font. This certainly poses a difficult situation for our visual system to solve what exactly is out there.

Somehow, it works out that it is based on some kind of facial resemblance. The fact of individual differences in face pareidolia shows that some people’s visual system may work it out “better” than others do.

Does it mean that their visual processing system is superior at recognizing faces? Not necessarily. The face is one of the most salient object categories in our social life.

To fully process a face is not only about how to recognize the stimulus as a face, but more importantly to receive social information (e.g., emotion or intention). We proposed that those who see more pareidolia faces would have a more sensitive affective processing system, which actively contributes to the recognition of a face from ambiguous stimulations.

That could lead to the prediction that a more extensive network involving both “cold” and “hot” parts of the brain would be activated during pareidolia experience in those who see more pareidolia faces.

Proverbio and Galli (2016) recorded the ERPs when men and women viewed objects that resemble faces (pareidolia) and provided preliminary evidence for the role of interconnection between perceptual and affective processing in pareidolia experience.

Using source reconstruction technique, they observed greater activations in affective processing areas in female brains than male brains, including the right superior temporal sulcus, posterior cingulate cortex and orbitofrontal cortex (Proverbio & Galli, 2016).

In contrast, in male brains, there are prevalent activations of occipito/parietal regions along with a considerably smaller activation of orbitofrontal cortex. Previous studies have reported that women exhibit higher levels of emotional responses than men (Kret & De Gelder, 2012; Kring & Gordon, 1998) and may lead to attentional biases toward emotional stimuli due to higher level of alertness (Andric et al., 2016; Doty, Japee, Ingvar, & Ungerleider, 2013).

This is also in accordance with the female advantage in face emotion recognition. In general, females recognize emotional faces faster than males do (Hampson et al., 2006; Kret & De Gelder, 2012; McClure, 2000).

For instance, when performing an emotion recognition task with real facial expression images, Hampson et al. (2006) found that women reacted faster in recognizing both positive and negative emotional faces than men. Whether and how individual’s face pareidolia perception is modulated by his/her sensitivity to emotional information in the environment needs future investigation.

Recently, Taubert et al. (2018) found that when the bilateral amygdala was damaged in monkeys, they stop selecting real faces or pareidolia faces as a viewing preference in a face-versus-object free-viewing task. The authors suggested that the amygdala lesion might disrupt the visual processing in the temporal lobe and lead to the elimination of face viewing preference. All these studies indicate that the perceptual and affective systems interact with each other during pareidolia processing, and that the involvement of affective processing system may be a key reason for inducing face pareidolia.


Andric, S., Maric, N.P., Knezevic, G., Mihaljevic, M., Mirjanic, T., Velthorst, E. and van Os, J. (2016). Neuroticism and facial emotion recognition in healthy adults. Early Intervention in Psychiatry, 10, 160–164.CrossRef | Google Scholar | PubMed

Baron-Cohen, S. (2010). Empathizing, systemizing, and the extreme male brain theory of autism. Progress in Brain Research, 186, 167–175.CrossRef | Google Scholar | PubMed

Bourne, V.J. (2005). Lateralised processing of positive facial emotion: Sex differences in strength of hemispheric dominance. Neuropsychologia, 43, 953–956.CrossRef | Google Scholar | PubMed

Burns, A. (2011). 50 objects that a little like Jesus. Retrieved from https://uproxx.com/viral/50-objects-that-look-a-little-like-jesus/Google Scholar

Cellerino, A., Borghetti, D. and Sartucci, F. (2004). Sex differences in face gender recognition in humans. Brain Research Bulletin, 63, 443–449.CrossRef | Google Scholar | PubMed

Cohen, L.B. and Strauss, M.S. (1979). Concept acquisition in the human infant. Child Development, 50, 419–424.CrossRef | Google Scholar | PubMed

Connellan, J., Baron-Cohen, S., Wheelwright, S., Batki, A. and Ahluwalia, J. (2000). Sex differences in human neonatal social perception. Infant behavior and Development, 23, 113–118.CrossRef | Google Scholar

Cullen, H., Kanai, R., Bahrami, B.and Rees, G. (2014). Individual differences in anthropomorphic attributions and human brain structure. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 9, 1276–1280.CrossRef | Google Scholar | PubMed

De Haan, M. and Nelson, C.A. (1999). Brain activity differentiates face and object processing in 6-month-old infants. Developmental Psychology, 35, 1113.CrossRef | Google Scholar | PubMed

Doty, T.J., Japee, S., Ingvar, M. and Ungerleider, L.G. (2013). Fearful face detection sensitivity in healthy adults correlates with anxiety-related traits. Emotion, 13, 183.CrossRef | Google Scholar | PubMed

Eisenberg, H. and Lennon, R. (1983). Sex differences in empathy andrelated capacities. Psychological Bulletin, 94, 100–131.CrossRef | Google Scholar

Epley, N., Akalis, S., Waytz, A. and Cacioppo, J.T. (2008). Creating social connection through inferential reproduction: Loneliness and perceived agency in gadgets, gods, and greyhounds. Psychological Science, 19, 114–120.CrossRef | Google Scholar | PubMed

Fagan, J.F. (1972). Infants’ recognition memory for faces. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 14, 453–476.CrossRef | Google Scholar | PubMed

Furl, N., Garrido, L., Dolan, R.J., Driver, J. and Duchaine, B. (2011). Fusiform gyrus face selectivity relates to individual differences in facial recognition ability. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 23, 1723–1740.CrossRef | Google Scholar | PubMed

Golarai, G., Liberman, A., Yoon, J. and Grill-Spector, K. (2010). Differential development of the ventral visual cortex extends through adolescence. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 3, 80.Google Scholar | PubMed

Hadjikhani, N., Kveraga, K., Naik, P. and Ahlfors, S.P. (2009). Early (N170) activation of face-specific cortex by face-like objects. Neuroreport, 20, 403–407.CrossRef | Google Scholar

Hampson, E., van Anders, S.M. and Mullin, L.I. (2006). A female advantage in the recognition of emotional facial expressions: Test of an evolutionary hypothesis. Evolution and Human Behavior, 27, 401–416.CrossRef | Google ScholarHerlitz, A., Nilsson, L.-G. and Bäckman, L. (1997). Gender differences in episodic memory. Memory & Cognition, 25, 801–811.CrossRef | Google Scholar | PubMed

Herlitz, A. and Rehnman, J. (2008). Sex differences in episodic memory. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 17, 52–56.CrossRef | Google Scholar

Hoffman, M.L. (1977). Empathy, its development and prosocial implications. Nebraska Symposium on Motivation, 25, 169–217.Google Scholar | PubMed

Högl, B. (2017). What the “man in the moon” can tell us about the future of our brains. Annals of Translational Medicine, 5, 358.CrossRef | Google Scholar | PubMedJ

ohnson, M.H., Dziurawiec, S., Ellis, H. and Morton, J. (1991). Newborns’ preferential tracking of face-like stimuli and its subsequent decline. Cognition, 40, 1–19.CrossRef | Google Scholar | PubMed

Kato, M. and Mugitani, R. (2015). Pareidolia in infants. Plos One, 10, e0118539.CrossRef | Google Scholar | PubMed

Kelly, D.J., Quinn, P.C., Slater, A.M., Lee, K., Ge, L. and Pascalis, O.J. (2007). The other-race effect develops during infancy: Evidence of perceptual narrowing. Psychological Science, 18, 1084–1089.CrossRef | Google Scholar | PubMed

Kobayashi, M., Otsuka, Y., Nakato, E., Kanazawa, S., Yamaguchi, M.K. and Kakigi, R. (2012). Do infants recognize the Arcimboldo images as faces? Behavioral and near-infrared spectroscopic study. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 111, 22–36.CrossRef | Google Scholar | PubMed

Kret, M.E. and De Gelder, B. (2012). A review on sex differences in processing emotional signals. Neuropsychologia, 50, 1211–1221.CrossRef | Google Scholar | PubMed

Kring, A.M. and Gordon, A.H. (1998). Sex differences in emotion: Expression, experience, and physiology. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 74, 686.CrossRef | Google Scholar | PubMed

Krummenacher, P., Mohr, C., Haker, H. and Brugger, P. (2010). Dopamine, paranormal belief, and the detection of meaningful stimuli. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 22, 1670–1681.CrossRef | Google Scholar | PubMed

Lewin, C. and Herlitz, A. (2002). Sex differences in face recognition – Women’s faces make the difference. Brain and Cognition, 50, 121–128.CrossRef | Google Scholar | PubMed

Lewin, C., Wolgers, G. and Herlitz, A. (2001). Sex differences favoring women in verbal but not in visuospatial episodic memory. Neuropsychology, 15, 165.CrossRef | Google Scholar | PubMed

Lewkowicz, D.J. and Hansen-Tift, A.M. (2012). Infants deploy selective attention to the mouth of a talking face when learning speech. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 109, 1431–1436.CrossRef | Google Scholar | PubMed

Liu, J., Li, J., Feng, L., Li, L., Tian, J. and Lee, K. (2014). Seeing Jesus in toast: Neural and behavioral correlates of face pareidolia. Cortex, 53, 60–77.CrossRef | Google Scholar | PubMed

Ludemann, P.M. and Nelson, C.A. (1988). Categorical representation of facial expressions by 7-month-old infants. Developmental Psychology, 24, 492–501.CrossRef | Google Scholar

Mandy, W., Chilvers, R., Chowdhury, U., Salter, G., Seigal, A. and Skuse, D. (2012). Sex differences in autism spectrum disorder: evidence from a large sample of children and adolescents. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 42, 1304–1313.CrossRef | Google Scholar | PubMed

McClure, E.B. (2000). A meta-analytic review of sex differences in facial expression processing and their development in infants, children, and adolescents. Psychological Bulletin, 126, 424–453.CrossRef | Google Scholar | PubMed

Meng, M., Cherian, T., Singal, G. and Sinha, P. (2012). Lateralization of face processing in the human brain. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 279, 2052–2061.CrossRef | Google Scholar | PubMed

Mohr, C. and Claridge, G. (2015). Schizotypy – Do not worry, it is not all worrisome. Schizophrenia bulletin, 41, S436–S443.CrossRef | Google Scholar

Montagne, B., Kessels, R.P., Frigerio, E., de Haan, E.H. and Perrett, D.I. (2005). Sex differences in the perception of affective facial expressions: Do men really lack emotional sensitivity? Cognitive Processing, 6, 136–141.CrossRef | Google Scholar | PubMed

Moore, W.S. (2012). 29 ordinary things that look like Jesus. Retrieved from https://www.ranker.com/list/stuff-that-looks-like-jesus/whitneysmoore?page=8Google Scholar

Morton, J. and Johnson, M.H. (1991). CONSPEC and CONLERN: A two-process theory of infant face recognition. Psychological Review, 98, 164–181.CrossRef | Google Scholar | PubMed

Mosimann, U.P., Rowan, E.N., Partington, C.E., Collerton, D., Littlewood, E., O’Brien, J.T. … McKeith, I.G. (2006). Characteristics of visual hallucinations in Parkinson disease dementia and dementia with Lewy bodies. The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, 14, 153–160.CrossRef | Google Scholar | PubMed

Nihei, Y., Minami, T. and Nakauchi, S. (2018). Brain activity related to the judgment of face-likeness: Correlation between EEG and face-like evaluation. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 12, 56.CrossRef | Google Scholar | PubMed

Paras, C. and Webster, M. (2013). Stimulus requirements for face perception: an analysis based on “totem poles”. Frontiers in Psychology, 4, 18.CrossRef | Google Scholar | PubMed

Partos, T.R., Cropper, S.J. and Rawlings, D. (2016). You don’t see what I see: Individual differences in the perception of meaning from visual stimuli. Plos One, 11, e0150615.CrossRef | Google Scholar | PubMed

Pascalis, O., de Haan, M. and Nelson, C.A. (2002). Is face processing species-specific during the first year of life? Science, 296, 1321–1323.CrossRef | Google Scholar | PubMed

Pavlova, M.A., Galli, J., Pagani, F., Sokolov, A.N., Fallgatter, A.J. and Fazzi, E.M. (2018). Social cognition in Down syndrome: Face tuning in face-like non-face images. Frontiers in Psychology, 9, 2583.CrossRef | Google Scholar | PubMed

Pavlova, M.A., Guerreschi, M., Tagliavento, L., Gitti, F., Sokolov, A.N., Fallgatter, A.J. and Fazzi, E. (2017). Social cognition in autism: Face tuning. Scientific Reports, 7, 2734.CrossRef | Google Scholar | PubMed

Pavlova, M.A., Heiz, J., Sokolov, A.N. and Barisnikov, K. (2016). Social cognition in Williams Syndrome: Face tuning. Frontiers in Psychology, 7, 1131.CrossRef | Google Scholar | PubMed

Pavlova, M.A., Heiz, J., Sokolov, A.N., Fallgatter, A.J. and Barisnikov, K. (2018). Even subtle cultural differences affect face tuning. Plos One, 13, e0198299.CrossRef | Google Scholar | PubMed

Pavlova, M.A., Scheffler, K. and Sokolov, A.N. (2015). Face-n-Food: Gender differences in tuning to faces. Plos One, 10, e0130363.CrossRef | Google Scholar | PubMed

Proverbio, A.M., Riva, F.Martin, E. and Zani, A. (2010). Face coding is bilateral in the female brain. PLoS One, 5, e11242.CrossRef | Google Scholar | PubMed

Proverbio, A.M. and Galli, J. (2016). Women are better at seeing faces where there are none: An ERP study of face pareidolia. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 11, 1501–1512.CrossRef | Google Scholar | PubMed

Rahman, Q. and Anchassi, T. (2012). Men appear more lateralized when noticing emotion in male faces. Emotion, 12, 174–179.CrossRef | Google Scholar | PubMed

Rehnman, J. and Herlitz, A. (2006). Higher face recognition ability in girls: Magnified by own-sex and own-ethnicity bias. Memory, 14, 289–296.CrossRef | Google Scholar | PubMed

Riekki, T., Lindeman, M., Aleneff, M., Halme, A. and Nuortimo, A. (2013). Paranormal and religious believers are more prone to illusory face perception than skeptics and non-believers. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 27, 150–155.CrossRef | Google Scholar

Roberts, G.G. and Touma, N.J. (2011). The face of testicular pain: a surprising ultrasound finding. Urology, 78, 565.CrossRef | Google Scholar | PubMed

Ryan, C., Stafford, M. and King, R.J. (2016). Brief report: Seeing the man in the moon: Do children with autism perceive pareidolic faces? A pilot study. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 46, 3838–3843.CrossRef | Google Scholar | PubMed

Sandstrom, G.M. and Dunn, E.W. (2013). Replication of “Creating social connection through inferential reproduction: Loneliness and perceived agency in gadgets, Gods, and greyhounds” by Nick Epley, Scott Akalis, Adam Waytz, and John T. Cacioppo (2008, Psychological Science). Retrieved from https://osf.io/m5a2c/Google Scholar

Sasai-Sakuma, T., Nishio, Y., Yokoi, K., Mori, E. and Inoue, Y. (2017). Pareidolias in REM sleep behavior disorder: A possible predictive marker of Lewy body diseases? Sleep, 40, zsw045.CrossRef | Google Scholar | PubMed

Shakeshaft, N.G. and Plomin, R. (2015). Genetic specificity of face recognition. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 112, 12887–12892.CrossRef | Google Scholar | PubMed

Sommer, W., Hildebrandt, A., Kunina-Habenicht, O., Schacht, A. and Wilhelm, O. (2013). Sex differences in face cognition. Acta Psychologica, 142, 62–73.CrossRef | Google Scholar | PubMed

Su, R., Rounds, J. and Armstrong, P.I. (2009). Men and things, women and people: A meta-analysis of sex differences in interests. Psychological Bulletin, 135, 859.CrossRef | Google Scholar | PubMedSun, Y., Gao, X. and Han, S. (2010). Sex differences in face gender recognition: An event-related potential study. Brain Research, 1327, 69–76.CrossRef | Google Scholar | PubMed

Tahmasebi, A.M., Artiges, E., Banaschewski, T., Barker, G.J., Bruehl, R., Büchel, C. … Gallinat, J. (2012). Creating probabilistic maps of the face network in the adolescent brain: A multicentre functional MRI study. Human Brain Mapping, 33, 938–957.CrossRef | Google Scholar | PubMed

Taubert, J., Flessert, M., Wardle, S.G., Basile, B.M., Murphy, A.P., Murray, E.A. and Ungerleider, L.G. (2018). Amygdala lesions eliminate viewing preferences for faces in rhesus monkeys. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 115, 8043–8048.CrossRef | Google Scholar | PubMed

Taubert, J., Wardle, S.G., Flessert, M., Leopold, D.A. and Ungerleider, L.G. (2017). Face pareidolia in the rhesus monkey. Current Biology, 27, 2505–2509.CrossRef | Google Scholar | PubMed

Tenenbaum, E.J., Shah, R.J., Sobel, D.M., Malle, B.F. and Morgan, J.L. (2013). Increased focus on the mouth among infants in the first year of life: a longitudinal eye-tracking study. Infancy, 18, 534–553.CrossRef | Google Scholar | PubMed

Uchiyama, M., Nishio, Y., Yokoi, K., Hirayama, K., Imamura, T., Shimomura, T. and Mori, E. (2012). Pareidolias: Complex visual illusions in dementia with Lewy bodies. Brain, 135, 2458–2469.CrossRef | Google Scholar | PubMed

Uchiyama, M., Nishio, Y., Yokoi, K., Hosokai, Y., Takeda, A. and Mori, E. (2015). Pareidolia in Parkinson’s disease without dementia: A positron emission tomography study. Parkinsonism & Related Disorders, 21, 603–609.CrossRef | Google Scholar | PubMed

Wardle, S.G., Seymour, K. and Taubert, J. (2017). Characterizing the response to face pareidolia in human category-selective visual cortex. bioRxiv, 233387.Google Scholar

Werling, D.M. and Geschwind, D.H. (2013). Sex differences in autism spectrum disorders. Current Opinion in Neurology, 26, 146–153.CrossRef | Google Scholar | PubMed

Wilmer, J.B., Germine, L., Chabris, C.F., Chatterjee, G., Williams, M., Loken, E. … Duchaine, B.J. (2010). Human face recognition ability is specific and highly heritable. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 107, 5238–5241.CrossRef | Google Scholar | PubMed

Zhang, H., Liu, J., Huber, D.E., Rieth, C.A., Tian, J. and Lee, K. (2008). Detecting faces in pure noise images: A functional MRI study on top-down perception. NeuroReport, 19, 229–233.CrossRef | Google Scholar

Zimmermann, K.M., Stratil, A.-S., Thome, I., Sommer, J. and Jansen, A. (2019). Illusory face detection in pure noise images: The role of interindividual variability in fMRI activation patterns. Plos One, 14, e0209310.CrossRef | Google Scholar | PubMed

More information: Colin J. Palmer et al. Face Pareidolia Recruits Mechanisms for Detecting Human Social Attention, Psychological Science (2020). DOI: 10.1177/0956797620924814


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Questo sito usa Akismet per ridurre lo spam. Scopri come i tuoi dati vengono elaborati.