Whether it’s on a cloud, the front of a car, or a $ 28,000 toasted sandwich Supposedly similar to the Virgin Mary, seeing faces on inanimate objects is a common experience.
According to new research from the University of Sydney, our brains emotionally detect and respond to these illusory faces in the same way that they do to real human faces.
Face pareidolia (seeing faces in random objects or patterns of light and shadow) is an everyday phenomenon. Once considered a symptom of psychosis, arises from an error in visual perception.
Lead researcher Professor David Alais from the University of Sydney said that human brains are evolutionarily programmed to recognize faces, with highly specialized brain regions for facial detection and processing.
“We are such a sophisticated social species and facial recognition is very important,” said Alais. “You need to recognize who he is, is he family, is he friend or foe, what are his intentions and emotions?
“Faces are incredibly fast to detect. The brain seems to do this … using a sort of template matching procedure, so if you see an object that appears to have two eyes above the nose above the mouth, then it says, ‘Oh, I’m looking at a expensive’.
“He’s a bit quick and loose and sometimes he makes mistakes, so something that resembles a face will often trigger this template match.”
The researchers showed people a sequence of faces, a mixture of real faces and images of pareidolia, and the participants rated each facial expression on a scale between angry and happy.
The researchers found that inanimate objects had an emotional priming effect similar to real faces.
“What we found was that these pareidolia images are actually processed by the same mechanism that would normally process emotion on a real face,” Alais said.
“Somehow you are unable to totally turn off that facial response and emotional response and see it as an object. It continues to be both an object and a face ”.
The study may help inform research in artificial intelligence or facial processing disorders such as prosopagnosia, he said.
Previous research co-authored by Alaïs showed that when judging a series of faces, the perception of a person’s appearance was skewed by the previous image displayed. “If the old one was attractive, they rated the current one more attractive,” Alais said.
“This also happens with the expression,” he said. “If you see a happy face before, the next face will be rated a little happier.”
The latest study was published in the peer-reviewed journal. Proceedings of the Royal Society B.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism