No You’re Not Crazy, You’re Programmed to Be Seeing Thingsadmin
Have you ever looked at an inanimate object – a pepper, a mailbox, the bush in your backyard – and seen a face? Don’t worry – you’re not alone and you’re not going crazy. According to a new study published in Psychological Science, your mind sees these faces thanks to a particular set of neurons “that are primed to recognize faces and extract important social information from them,” IFLScience.com reports.
Previous research has shown that these neurons are susceptible to sensory adaptation. Study author Colin Palmer explains: “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.”
To test for face pareidolia – the phenomenon of seeing faces in everyday objects – researchers from the University of New South Wales (UNSW) showed volunteers a series of pictures of inanimate objects that looked like they had faces, all of which appeared to be directing their gaze in the same direction. When these same participants were then shown images of actual human faces looking directly at them, they tended to believe the faces were actually gazing in the opposite direction of the pareidolia faces.
“This is evidence of overlap in the neural mechanisms that are active when we experience face pareidolia and when we look at human faces,” Palmer explained. He and his fellow researchers believe the willingness to recognize faces reflects an evolutionary adaptation whereby we have become highly attuned to reading the social cues embedded in the facial expressions of other people.