Pareidolia (in a clinical context) is a short-lasting perceptual disorder in which the affected person recognises faces of familiar people, animals and objects in abstract patterns and structures. This form of sensory illusion is widespread. The term comes from the Greek. „Para“ means „next to“ and „eidolon“ means form or image. In pareidolia, an existing object is supplemented by another, fantasised image. The brain completes disjointed fragments into familiar shapes and adds an additional image to an existing object.
In everyday language, we speak of pareidolia when we recognise faces in objects, patterns, shapes and figures.
How does pareidolia develop? Causes, reasons, psychologiue
The misinterpretations are interpretations of the subconscious. The human brain is always tempted to complete seemingly unrelated images and structures, to compare them with familiar patterns and to approximate them. The recognition of faces is therefore a mixture of optical illusion, individual expectations and already established concepts of thought. People see human faces because they expect them based on their experiences. Evolutionary researchers assume that this is a mechanism to protect people from danger. The better we can recognise hidden faces within a diffuse environment, the faster we can recognise potential enemies and, if necessary, flee. Facial recognition is also indispensable for our social relationships, because interaction is only possible on its basis. Even babies are able to recognise faces at a very early age.
In which groups of people does this phenomenon occur more frequently?
Such fantasies of the mind occur predominantly in completely healthy people. They are even able to consciously control the phenomenon. However, recent psychological studies suggest that people who believe they recognise faces, plants and animals in randomly arranged dots have a nervous, rather anxious personality structure. People with these characteristics suspect something unpleasant, threatening behind the recognised faces. Pareidolia has also been found to be more common in patients with schizophrenia or psychosis.
Studies have also shown that pareidolia is much more common in women than in men. The assumption is that women, due to their diverse social tasks and behaviour patterns, can and must perceive faces or the emotion shown in them more easily. Pareidolia is also more pronounced among religious people than among people who have no access to spiritual worlds.
What do the people affected see above all?
It happens very often that people believe they can recognise faces in cloud shapes. But faces are also recognised in puddles and reflections on glass panes. Avoiding this kind of perception is not so easy, because the human brain is designed to recognise patterns. Due to evolution, the activation components for the concept of face are strongly spread. For children, the world is still full of mysticism and wonder whose secrets they want to fathom. This is why children often see fantasy beings such as dragons, fairies and the like in cloud formations.
Pareidolia, optical illusion and hallucination
In optical illusion, there is also a dysfunction between what the eye perceives and what the brain makes of it. Through a certain number of shapes and colours, we suddenly see movement where there can be none; or we believe one side is longer than the other, although both sides are the same length. The optical illusion is often initiated by artists. It is a pleasant stimulation of the senses in everyday life that is fun and has no harmful side effects.
Pareidolia is also different from hallucination because it is not produced by affect. It is therefore possible for several people to recognise the same face in the object or in the cloud. In contrast, the hallucination is a pathological illusion. The hallucinating person cannot recognise the impossibility of his perception. He believes something objective to be something completely different, thus denies reality. Hallucinations can occur when taking psychoactive substances, when very tired or when feverish. However, these disappear again when the fever subsides or full attention returns.