Pareidolias-why we see non-existent faces

Human beings are prone to see patterns where none exist. This concept of pareidolias often has religious connotations, and has led to bouts of religious fervour. Wikipedia describes this as a psychological phenomenon wherein ‘the mind perceives a familiar pattern where none actually exists‘. The BBC recently explored why we see these patterns under the title ‘why we see faces in the hills, the moon and toasties‘.

"Holz Geist Gesicht" by Usien - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
Holz Geist Gesicht” by UsienOwn work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

It is not surprising that artists have made free use of this human weakness to play mind tricks.

"Picture puzzle". Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.
Picture puzzle“. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

There are however more sinister implications of pareidolias (you would expect this from a brain doctor!). This tendency to see patterns may be a manifestation of complex hallucinations, typically seen in Lewy body disease and has been reported in Parkinson’s disease.

The tendency to see patterns has been used to good effect in neurological imaging. Many radiological diagnostic signs have been assigned names that reflect the false patterns they project on the human mind. This concept of neuropareidolia is excellently explored in this paper. Neurologists and radiologists for example talk of the hot cross bun sign in multiple system atrophy, the panda sign in Wilson’s disease, and the hummingbird sign in progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP). It seems we bring our humanity to the workplace!

"Archilochus-alexandri-003". Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons.
Archilochus-alexandri-003“. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons.
"Steele-olszewski-richardson disease" by Dr Laughlin Dawes - radpod.org. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Commons.
Steele-olszewski-richardson disease” by Dr Laughlin Dawes – radpod.org. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Commons.

 

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