We've all been here before: we look at the wall or ceiling and see some of the stains resemble a human face, or when we look at our food and see a laughing expression, or sometimes a dog's face in the clouds--or more popularly, the Martian Man.

The Science Behind Pareidolia

This is known as pareidolia, a perception phenomenon wherein we see faces in everyday, inanimate objects, and all it really takes are the basic shapes of the eyes and a mouth to see that something is looking back and staring at you.

Sometimes, such as the "man" on Mars, people tend to freak out, overthink the meaning behind it, or take it as personal.

However, pareidolia is common, and truth be told, it might have already happened to everyone.

That is because our brain is hard-wired to see this pattern and react to it the way we do, and there are already previous studies that have identified parts of the brain that respond to a human's face and what we believe is a human face.

According to Forbes, these specialized regions help us extract essential information such as who they are, whether we recognize them, and whether they are threatening or safe.

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A New Research

In new research, a team of researchers led by Dr. Colin Palmer at the University of South Wales School of Psychology tested whether face pareidolia also activates the same part of the brain that is used when we gather information whenever we look at a person's face.

To know the answer, the team used a visual illusion known as sensory adaptation.

In the study, the team worked with 60 participants and showed each one of them repeated images of pareidolia objects that appear to be gazing more on the left.

"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," Palmer said.

The researcher said that the experience shows evidence that there is a kind of habituation process in the brain "where cells involved in detecting gaze direction change their sensitivity" when we are exposed to faces that gaze a particular direction repeatedly.

It's Better to Detect Faces

Apparently, this happens because overlapping sensory mechanisms are activated whenever we see a human face as well as face pareidolia.

Furthermore, these effects have significantly decreased when the face-like features have been removed in the objects.

According to ScienceAlert, the team suggests that the study shows evidence that face pareidolia is more than just seeing a face, and instead, we also see emotions, although we do know objects don't have any.

Our minds can't help but see and read emotions, and this is something important in real life whenever we see a human face as this helps us gauge whether they are safe or not.

"There is an evolutionary advantage to being really good or really efficient at detecting faces, it's important to us socially. It's also important in detecting predators," the lead researcher said. "Another way of putting this is that it's better to have a system that's overly sensitive to detecting faces, than one that is not sensitive enough."

The study is published in the journal Psychological Science.

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Written by: Nhx Tingson

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