Pareidolia

Nov 22 / Network Capital



For most of human history, predators stalked the planet. Survival of the fittest was a reality in its literal sense. In such a context, survival invariably favoured the paranoid. It favoured people paranoid enough to see the malevolent even in a shadow. While this paranoia served as an essential defence mechanism, it has now cursed us with Pareidolia or the tendency to see faces in things.

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We all see faces in different (at times weird) things. Sometimes it is a car with its headlights that resembles the human face or a funny looking potato or maybe a non-descript dustbin. For Diane Duyser, it was a face of women in her cheese toast. While at first it scared her, but the soft features of the female face on her toast also fascinated Diane. As the word about the cheese toast got around, it eventually became so popular that a casino paid $28,000 to display it.

This tendency to see faces in inanimate objects is not new. According to researchers, it is partly due to how human brains are wired, partly due to the sheer number of faces we see, and partly a product of paranoia and evolutionary processes. Facial expressions have always been a crucial way to gauge emotions and motives. They humanize our understanding of objects and inform our sub- conscious reaction. Psychologists have built experiments and tests based on Pareidolia to examine personal characteristics and emo- tional functioning. The Rorschach inkblot test is an interesting and popular example. This test presents individuals with slides of inkblots and checks their emotional health and traits based on their perception of the abstract inkblots.

Pareidolia is therefore an extremely crucial form of non-verbal communication and awareness. But the fear and paranoia associ- ated with Pareidolia are now irrelevant. As was with Diane, the experience of seeing faces in things like bread can instinctively be scary. Historically, the odds of being scared and paranoid worked in our favour. It saved us from all sorts of harms and attacks. However, with modern societies, collective living and improved standard of life, paranoia and fear are counterproductive. Even Naval Ravikant, AngelList’s CEO claims it is better to be an irrational optimist than a cynical pessimist. Therefore, to make Pareidolia work in your favour, embrace its abilities of humanizing, communication and perception and resist its capabilities of instilling fear and paranoia.