Psychologists from University of Toronto and other partner institutes in China found that those who report seeing images of Jesus and other well-known faces on inanimate objects including toasts and clouds are normal.
Based on a new study, "face pareidolia" is a normal behavior and it is even based on physical causes. The phenomenon existed for hundreds of years but the brain mechanisms underlying its mystery were still unknown until lately.
People have the tendency to think of visual perception of a face as a bottom-up course. People see a face then the brain interprets the information. However, the study shows that what people perceive and see is actually determined by their biases that exist in their brains even before any outside stimuli is processed by their brains.
This means human brains are designed specifically to recognize faces even in inanimate objects because the brain's frontal cortex can interpret outside stimuli and generate expectations. The team found that the brain could lead people to see various images including letters and words depending on what they anticipate to see, activating specific brain parts to process the images.
The brain has two regions which were specifically active when the participants thought they saw a face. These parts were the frontal cortex which is associated with expectations and the posterior visual cortex which processes actively the visuals that the eyes can see.
Lee and a team from a couple of neurology institutions in Asia observed 20 different participants through an MRI machine brain scan and showed them different images. Their individual behavioral responses to the random images were examined. Some participants were informed beforehand that 50 percent of the images contained a face and some were told that 50 percent of the images contained a letter. The researchers found that 35 percent of the people saw illusory images. In other words, when they expected to see an image, they usually did.
"Our findings suggest that it's common for people to see non-existent features because human brains are uniquely wired to recognize faces. Even when there's only a slight suggestion of facial features, the brain automatically interprets it as a face," lead study author and professor at the University of Toronto and Dr. Erick Jackman Institute of Child Study Kang Lee said.