Pareidolia: Why we see what isn’t there

Photo: Diana Topan
June 16, 2018 /Photography News/ A cloud resembling an angel reassures some – and terrifies others. Traffic jams stretch for blocks as people flock to see the Virgin Mary on a bathroom window. Photos of Martian rocks resembling people, rats and crabs go viral in an instant.

That’s the power of pareidolia, a peculiar, but entirely natural, function of the human brain that causes us to impose patterns on random collections of images and sounds.

From the Greek para-, “alongside of, instead of” and eidolon, “image, shape,” it’s an ancient ability that may have benefited survival in the far distant past, when it was essential to pick out hidden dangers in the landscape. Notably, Carl Sagan made this claim in his 1995 book The Demon-Haunted World – Science as a Candle in the Dark, asserting that it is a phenomenon that results from how our brains interpret light and shadows (sometimes making meaning from these features when there is none).


Pareidolia accounts for ancient tales of tree dwelling dryads, trolls who guard gardens and bridges, and stone giants. It’s what lets us see shapes in the contours of clouds, find a face on the surface of the moon, and trace the constellations in the night sky.

And while that’s been in existence for all of our history, pareidolia has gone from psychology textbooks to the popular imagination in recent years, thanks to media attention. We have countless reports of religious figures seen in peculiar places and a constant stream of photographs sent by the Curiosity Rover from the surface of Mars to inspire our imaginations.

Pareidolia explains the famous Virgin Mary on a cheese sandwich, which sold on eBay for $28,000, the cornflake shaped like the state of Illinois auctioned off for $1350, and even the much revered Shroud of Turin, which to many observers reflects the figure of a crucified Christ.


Interestingly, not everyone experiences pareidolia in the same way – or at all – and it seems that it is influenced by culture. Psychologists note that seeing meaning in random data is more likely among people with strong beliefs in religion or the paranormal. That accounts for the large number of instances of pareidolia involving religious symbols or figures ranging from that aforementioned Shroud, to sightings of the Hindu monkey god in a Singapore tree, and the name of Allah in photographs of the 2004 tsunami in Asia.

Even if many people see the same image, they may interpret it differently. The Man in the Moon that every Western child knows is the Moon Rabbit in Asia. It is known as the Moon Buffalo, Dragon or Frog in various other cultures. That’s also the reason you may argue with a friend about what shape you see in the fluffy cloud scudding overhead.


Pareidolia isn’t limited to seeing. Auditory pareidolia refers to the phenomenon of finding meaning in random sounds, such as the electronic voice phenomena that ghost hunters claim is evidence of spirits speaking from beyond the grave. It also accounts for the rumored hidden messages in rock and pop music albums, like the belief among Beatles fans that certain tracks played backwards revealed the words “Paul is dead.”


It may seem that pareidolia leads only to silly and sometimes creepy outcomes. But psychologists exploit it through tests like the Rorschach inkblots, where the shapes seen in random ink spatters are thought to reveal insights into a subject’s subconscious. Artists also play with pareidolia, creating images that can be seen in various ways. Georgia O’Keefe’s flower paintings, for example, outrage some viewers – and delight others – who see in them suggestions of female genitalia.

The human brain’s tendency toward pareidolia hasn’t changed in thousands of years. It’s even migrated to the digital world in the form of facial recognition and mapping software. And even computer brains can be fooled by what they see, finding human faces on everything from keys to garage doors and rock formations, just as the ancients did. Ultimately, this once again shows why you need to question absolutely everything.



  1. Unknown says

    Raksha Bandhan 2016 Images
    Raksha Bandhan 2016 Images
    Advance Raksha Bandhan 2016 Short Sms

    Unknown says

    Thanks for sharing such a fastidious opinion, piece of writing is good, thats why i have read it fully.
    Raksha Bandhan 2016 Quotes
    SSC CGL Result 2016
    NEET Cutoff Marks 2016
    Download NEET Phase 1 Result 2016
    Application Form
    SSC Exam Answer Keys

    Unknown says

    15 August Bollywood song list
    70th Independence Day Patriotic Bollywood Songs list
    15 August Ascii Sms
    15 August Slogans
    Independence Day Anchoring Script
    Swatantrata Diwas Desh Bhakti Kavita
    Swatantrata Diwas hd images
    15 August Advance Sms
    15 August Advance Images
    70th Independence Day 2016 Images
    Independence Day 3D Images
    Independence Day 3d Wallpaper
    70th Independence Day HD Wallpaper
    Independence Day 3D Wallpaper
    70th Independence Day HD Photos
    Independence day Patriotic Poems
    Independence day FB DP
    70th Independence day FB Status
    15 August 2016 Modi Speech

    Unknown says

    15 August Images
    15 August HD Images
    15 August 2016 Images
    15 August HD Photos
    15 August HD Wallpaper
    15 August Anchoring Script
    15 August Facebook Status
    15 August FB Status
    15 August FB Profile Pics
    15 August FB Profile Pics
    15 August Facebook Profile Pics
    15 August Facebook DP
    15 August FB DP
    15 August Motivational Speech
    15 August Motivational Thoughts
    15 August Motivational Quotes
    15 August Short Speech
    15 August Patriotic Poems
    15 August Desh Bhakti Kavita
    15 August Nibandh

    a10 says

    I think your post is very interesting and mostly i keep looking for like this type of websites where i learn or get new concept.

    color switch says

    I am happy to visit on your site. Thanks to share it.

    roblox says

    I like your all post. You have done really good work.

    mortal kombat x online says

    I appreciate your working style at the end just my request is please share with us some more great post...

    New year says

    happy friendship day
    friendship day images
    friendship day messages
    friendship day wishes

    Unknown says

    Interesting post

    happy wheels games says

    Let’s keep the best falsh games for your child! abc | | pokemon go | | happy wheels | happy wheels the game free: are safe place to play the very best free games for kids!

    gola says

    Ganesh Chaturthi Songs

    Ganesh Chaturthi 2016 Songs

    Ganesh Chaturthi 2016 Images

    Happy Diwali Images

    Happy Diwali 2016 Images

    Raksha Bandhan Shubh Muhurat Time

    Krishna Janmashtami 2016 Images

    Krishna Janmashtami Images

    Krishna Janmashtami Temple Decoration

    Krishna Janmashtami Vrat Vidhi In Hindi

    Krishna Janmashtami Shubh Muhurat

    Krishna Janmashtami 2016

    Dandiya DJ Mix Songs

    Karva Chauth Images

    Karva Chauth 2016 Images

    Happy Navratri Images

    Navratri 2016 Images

    Happy New Year 2017 Images

    Advance Happy New Year 2017 Images

    Unknown says

    Let’s keep are safe place to play the very best free games for kids! Please click: wingsio | slither io | abc

    Unknown says

    A great possibility for me and it was a superb knowledge to view this site. Very difficult to uncover these beneficial web page or web site. I have many devices and achieving proper picture of these worked well and energy continues to be seeing about this weblog. Often my own intend to make my personal site as well as my own enjoyment is growing due to this page. I we do hope you may well be more effective.
    list of emoticons | facebook lite |
    excel | gta 5

    Diwalidhamaka2016 says

    Celebration In India Best Pictures And Images
    Dussehra Quotes And Shayari Images
    Dussehra quotes for facebook and whatsapp
    Dasara Greetings Hd Images For Invitation
    Diwali Sms

    Unknown says

    Diwali 2016 Sms
    Diwali Sms
    Diwali 2016 Wishes
    Diwali 2016 Messages
    Diwali 2016 Shayari
    Diwali 2016 Advance Sms
    Indian Railway Recruitment
    RRB Jobs Nottification
    Upcoming Railway 235527 Recruitment 2016-17

    Unknown says

    Nice looking sites and great work. Pretty nice information. It has a better understanding. thanks for spending time on it.

    Manali Escorts

    Unknown says

    this it Penyebab Sakit Pinggang Dan Cara Mengatasinya too Cara Menyembuhkan Demam Tifus Secara Alami small Cara Ampuh Mengobati Mata Bintitan Dengan Cepat happy Obat Benjolan Di Bokong list Obat Iritasi Lambung Tradisional Yang Aman amazing Cara Untuk Menangani Keloid Thanks.......

    Unknown says

    Thanksgiving day art and crafts for teens
    thanksgiving day parade to watch online
    thanksgiving day parade 2016

    Web Hosting & Software Discount Offers 2019 says

    I have read your post.I wanna inform you that black Friday sale is out now.You can get latest discount coupons here.Thank you.
    Norton black friday sale

    Unknown says

    I would like to say thanks for this wonderful information.Well written & I appreciate your work.I am glad to be here.
    Hostgator Coupons

    fb login says

    Thank you for the information you provide, it helped me a lot! it's great that I known this site! Can you sharing some updates on how you have made this powerful post!

    Unknown says

    This is one of the cult game now, a lot of people enjoy playing them . Also you can refer to the game :
    gold mine strike | pokemon go 2
    The game controls are shown just under . Movement mechanisms primarily include acceleration and tilting controls.
    stickman games | stick war 2 | animal jam 2

    Unknown says

    OMG , Amazing !! Everything Informative
    This Is really Ah Very good post. Taking the time and actual effort to produce a superb article…
    Thanks For Sharing
    also Visit Our Sites

    Happy New Year 2017

    Happy New Year Gifs

    Happy New Year Advance Wishes

    Happy New Year Greetings Images

    Happy New Year Advance SMS Messages

    Happy New Year HD wallpapers Download

    TOP Happy New Year Wishes

    bloons tower defense 5 says

    Can you sharing some updates on how you have made this powerful post!
    geometry dash | facebook sign up

25 comments so far. What do you think?

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.