Pareidolia is a psychological phenomenon involving a stimulus (an image or a sound) wherein the
mind perceives a familiar pattern where none actually exists. The imagined perception of a pattern
or meaning where it does not actually exist, as in considering the moon to have human features (1)
**Note** There are visual and audio pareidolia effects but for the purpose of this article we will
focus just on the visual. E.V.P.'s (Electronic Voice Phenomemon) is a common form of audio
There are many examples of pareidolia and the paranormal community is plagued by this phenomenon. Some amateur and new to the paranormal scene take random photographs on location in graveyards, abandoned buildings or even in their own homes and see either ghost faces or bodies in the photos that are not really there. The human mind (and brain) is always trying to make sense of what the eyes are seeing. Consciousnessly you are trying to look for something familiar in the photo and unconsciously your brain is also doing the same.
Below is an example of seeing a face in the background of a family photo. Behind the children in the photo it appears as if there is a face, some state it was the spirit of a dead relative or some sort of demon stalking the children. But in reality it was just a combination of a reflection in the lake, leaves and other nature formations found in Nature.
Some natural formation appears and seems to form a human face. An example that we learn at an
early age and as children is laying on your back in a park and looking up at the clouds and stating what you may see. There have been many instances of this, usually centering around angels, God or Jesus in the sky.
Example of cloud pareidolia, which also may be photoshopped
Other examples of pareidolia are photos taken in a somewhat dark environment and in the reflection of a window a viewer claims to see the face of a ghost. Usually these are so vague, a red circle must be used to point out where the face/ghost is. After having it pointed out and spending a few seconds trying to see a human face, it will surface. Priming in action. A thought is put in your head and that
causes the action of you seeing the face.
Some pareidolia are simple mistakes when viewed in a photograph, but some are blatant photoshopped by unscrupulous people. The below photo is of a girl photoshopped into the interior of an old abandoned factory.
Here is one photo containing a prime example of pareidolia that I took myself was when we were hiking at the Delaware Water Gap. I was climbing the mountain and way off in the distance I spotted what looked like a face peering back at me. I walked several hundred yards to get a closer look and below is what I got. The image appears to look like a screaming face, but it was just holes in the tree. The picture was so interesting I used it for the cover of the 2nd Cursed book.
Automobiles are another example of pareidolia due to the fact that the two headlights form what appears as eyes,the grill a nose and the bumper a mouth. This works for the front or the back of the car. Anytime I am on the road I notice this effect on the front and backs of cars. They just keep staring at me!
A famous face from the surface of Mars; in 1976 Viking 1 acquired the below photo. This photo caused a wave of sensation throughout NASA, but the sensation was short lived. Scientists figured it was just another Martian mesa, common enough around Cydonia, only this one had unusual shadows that made it look like an Egyptian Pharaoh.
A few days later NASA unveiled the image for all to see. The caption noted a "huge rock formation ... which resembles a human head ... formed by shadows giving the illusion of eyes, nose and mouth." The authors reasoned it would be a good way to engage the public and attract attention to Mars.
Still to this day and after a lengthy explanation, some conspiracy theorists speculate on what this "face" is. (2)
A 1976 photo of the Mars "face"
New April 2001 view, Mars Global Surveyor OC image E03-00824
There are also many religious examples, whether it be Jesus on a piece of toast or an angel in a cloud formation, people will continue to see fascinating things in inanimate objects.
Jesus image on toast
The Rorschach test also known as the Rorschach inkblot test, the Rorschach technique, (or simply the inkblot test) is a psychological test in which subjects' perceptions of inkblots are recorded and then analyzed using psychological interpretation, complex algorithms, or both. Some psychologists use this test to examine a person's personality characteristics and emotional functioning. It has been employed to detect underlying thought disorder, especially in cases where patients are reluctant to describe their thinking processes openly. The test is named after its creator, Swiss psychologist Hermann Rorschach. (3)
The Rorschach inkblot test
There actually is a psychological phenomenon called Facial Pareidolia and some are more prone to
see human faces in inanimate objects. According to psychologists it is not a sign of madness but
that of a well wired brain. Professor Kang Lee (4) of the University of Toronto studies facial
pareidolia. Kang goes on to explain, "Most people think you have to be mentally abnormal to see
these types of images, so individuals reporting this phenomenon are often ridiculed.‘But our findings suggest it’s common for people to see non-existent features because human brains are uniquely wired to recognize faces, so that even when there’s only a slight suggestion of facial features the brain automatically interprets it as a face."
Professor Kang Lee of the University of Toronto
"The tendency to detect faces in ambiguous visual information is perhaps highly adaptive given the
supreme importance of faces in our social life and the high cost resulting from failure to detect a true face," explains Lee.
After analyzing the brain's response to seeing faces in inanimate objects the researchers, from
the University of Toronto, Beijing Jiaotong University, Xidian University, and the Institute of
Automation Chinese Academy of Sciences, discovered that the recognition occurs in the frontal and
The frontal cortex in each participant’s brain sent signals to the posterior visual cortex, which
then enhanced the recognizable elements to try and interpret the stimulus.
Many state that the paredolia effect is a product of gestalt, that is the human mind being drawn
to faces and things familiar. Organizing chaos into a whole that is perceived as more than the sum
of its parts.
My fave "enhanced" paredolia. Obviously the electrical outlets have been altered, but many, including myself, see faces within the outlet, but some jokester added an element of humor.
Striking visuals can be produced in this way, notably in the DeepDream (5) software, which falsely
detects and then exaggerates features such as eyes and faces in any image. I experimented with the software with some of my own photos and the site had a weird knack for adding dogs and animals into the images.
Here is a photo of me from the Deep Dream site, note how it added random animals.
In conclusion, people see what they are primed or predisposed to see. Individuals that have an interest in UFOs will see UFOs in the night sky. People who read ghost stories will attribute anything unknown to a ghost. Religious people will claim that everything was done by their God or angels. People that follow Bigfoot will state that every shadow in the woods is proof of Bigfoot's existence.
Cursed:An Explanation of the Unknown
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Cursed:An Explanation of the Unknown Revisited
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(Chris Chaos is a long time resident of South Jersey who once again resides in and writes from
Gloucester City, New Jersey. He is a filmmaker, a business owner, writer, urban explorer and
investigator of the odd and weird, a proud parent, happily taken and a connoisseur of
hot wings. Chris can be reached at AxisVideo@ao