Monday, February 8, 2010

The joy of pareidolia

People are skilled at finding patterns. Sometimes we find patterns that are not even there. Pareidolia is a recent word for the erroneous or fanciful perception of a pattern or meaning in something that is actually ambiguous or random, like the “man in the moon” or a soapy constellation. You need to be clear when you create graphics for a presentation, or else people just will fill in the blanks.

We are wonderful at finding human faces, both in profile and looking straight at us. Part of the brain even is dedicated to perceiving faces. It is called the fusiform face area. All it takes to get us started is areas that suggest eyes and a mouth, like this pan shown here by Phil Plait, which suggests the Stay Puft marshmallow man. Plait’s blog has a category devoted to examples of pareidolia.

Shane Killian has a three-part Bogosity video series about pareidolia for both sight and sound. Adam Buxton gives humorous video examples here and here of how reading mangled subtitles can bias the understanding of lyrics from religious songs.

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