Have you ever woken up in the middle of the night to find a figure looming over your bed, only to realise that it’s actually a pile of clothes? Or perhaps you’ve seen a spooky face peering in through your window only to have it disappear when the wind ruffles the leaves. You might have experienced pareidolia. The word literally means ‘wrong image’, and it’s down to the way our brains search for patterns. We process a constant stream of sensory information, and our brains have fractions of seconds to make decisions. This means storing and recalling simple patterns so that we can quickly scan through the noise. In much the same way as your smartphone camera looks for patterns to draw boxes around faces, your brain hones in on anything that might have two eyes and a mouth.
Our facial recognition system looks for two eyes and a mouth