Pareidolia is the tendency for perception to impose a meaningful interpretation on a nebulous stimulus.
It is usually visual, so that one sees an object, pattern, or meaning where there is none.
Common examples: perceived images of animals, faces, or objects in cloud formations, seeing faces in inanimate objects, or lunar pareidolia like the Man in the Moon.
This phenomenon include hidden messages in recorded music played in reverse or at higher- or lower-than-normal speeds, and hearing voices, or music in random noise, such as that produced by air conditioners or fans.
This phenomenon can cause people to interpret random images, or patterns of light and shadow, as faces.
Objects perceived as faces evoke an activation of the fusiform face area at a time and location similar to that evoked by faces.
This activation is similar to a slightly faster time (130 ms) that is seen for images of real faces.
Face perception evoked by face-like objects is a relatively early process, and not a late cognitive reinterpretation phenomenon.
Functional magnetic resonance imaging indicates that the interpretation of ambiguous stimuli depends upon processes similar to those elicited by known objects.
This explains why people generally identify a few lines and a circle as a face quickly and without hesitation, alerting the observer to both the emotional state and identity of the subject, even before the conscious mind begins to process or even receive the information.
The figure of a face can convey mood information, and emotions such as happiness or anger.
This capability is hypothesized to be the related to people being able to quickly identify the mental state, for example, of threatening people, thus providing the individual an opportunity to flee or attack pre-emptively.
It is an ability specialized for the processing and recognition of human emotions.
The Rorschach inkblot test uses pareidolia in an attempt to gain insight into a person’s mental state.
The Rorschach test elicits thoughts or feelings of respondents that are projected onto the ambiguous inkblot images.