See­ing faces

How It Works - - SCIENCE -

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

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