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Face Pareidolia: Here's Why We Spot Human Expressions in Non-living Objects

Representative Image.

Representative Image.

Face Pareidolia is what scientists call our brains’ error of seeing human faces in inanimate objects, in the moon, in the clouds, in a flower and an old wall seamed by rain.

Face Pareidolia is what scientists call our brains’ error of seeing human faces in inanimate objects, in the moon, in the clouds, in a flower and an old wall seamed by rain. However, what a human brain is exactly doing when it makes this error of detecting a face in a non-human object is still unknown. Now, scientists at the University of Sydney have found that when our brain makes an error of detecting faces where they are not, it does not suspend the process. Those imaginary faces were further analysed for emotions in the exact same way the brain processes a correctly detected human face. Scientists also explained why we see these faces in the first place.

According to scientists, face detection happens at a very fast speed in our brains. Because of its speed, the process is error-prone. However, a slower but more accurate face detection mechanism would not be advantageous for us, argue scientists. They think that seeing faces faster gives us an evolutionary benefit of never missing a face, given their importance in our lives.

The face detection system in our brains plays ‘fast and loose’by applying a crude template of two eyes over a nose and mouth,” said David Alais, a professor of psychology and the lead author of the study, in a statement by the University of Sydney. The study was published on July 7 in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Scientists further explain why we further interpret emotions in such faces perceived in objects, despite the fact that we know that they are not truly human faces. “Pareidolia faces are not discarded as false detections but undergo facial expression analysis in the same way as real faces," Alais explained further. By analysing faces, we want to quickly judge if the perceived face is a friend or foe.

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According to researchers, we go further to assign emotional attributes to imagined faces. These attributes are also fuelled by our preconceived notions of how we understand a particular emotion.

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first published:July 09, 2021, 07:14 IST