Human beings are champions in spotting patterns, especially faces, on inanimate objects – remember the famous “face on Mars” in images taken by Viking 1 orbiter in 1976, which is essentially a trick of light and shadow. And people always notice what they think The face of Jesus in toast and many others (so much) ordinary foodstuffs. It even existed and (now it does not exist) Twitter account dedicated to the curator paintings of the phenomenon of “faces in things.”
The modern name of the phenomenon is facial pareidolia. Scientists at the University of Sydney have found that our brains not only see faces in everyday objects, but our brains process objects for emotional expression similar to what we do for real faces, instead of dismissing them as “false” revelations. This common mechanism may have developed as a result of the need to quickly judge whether a person is a friend or an enemy. The team from Sydney described their work in recent article published in a journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.
Principal author David Alais of the University of Sydney, said The Guardian:
We are such a sophisticated social type, and face recognition is very important … You have to recognize who it is, is it family, is it a friend or an enemy, what are their intentions and feelings? Faces are revealed incredibly quickly. The brain seems to do this using a kind of template matching procedure. So if he sees an object that seems to have two eyes above his nose above his mouth, then he goes, “Oh, I see a face.” It’s a bit fast and loose, and sometimes it makes mistakes, so something that looks like a face will often trigger a match of this template.
Alais has been interested in these and related topics for years. For example, ua 2016 rad published in Scientific reports, Alais and his colleagues based on previous research that included rapid facial sequences that showed that the perception of facial identity, as well as attractiveness, is biased toward recently seen faces. So they devised a binary task that mimicked the selection interface on websites and Internet connection applications (like Tinder), in which users swipe left or right in response to whether they find potential partners ’profile pictures appealing or unattractive. Alais et al. found that many stimulus attributes — including orientation, facial expression, and attractiveness, and the observed slenderness of online discovery profiles — were systematically biased toward recent past experience.
This was followed by a Paper for 2019 u Journal of Vision, which extended that experimental approach according to our appreciation of art. Alais and his co-authors found that not every painting we look at in a museum or gallery is judged independently. They also found that we are prone to a “contrasting effect”: that is, perceiving an image more appealing if the work we have seen before is less aesthetically appealing. Instead, the study found that our assessment of art shows the same systemic bias of “serial dependence”. We rate images as more attractive if we look at them after seeing another attractive image, and we rate them as less attractive if the previous image was also less aesthetically appealing.
The next step was to examine the specific brain mechanisms behind the way we “read” social information from other people’s faces. Alais liked the phenomenon of facial pareidolia as related. “The striking feature of these items is that they not only look like faces, but can even convey a sense of personality of social significance,” he said, such as sliced peppers that look frowning or a towel dispenser that seems to be smiling.
Facial perception includes not only features common to all human faces, such as the placement of the mouth, nose and eyes. Our brains may be evolutionarily adapted to these universal patterns, but reading social information requires the ability to determine if someone is happy, angry, or sad, or paying attention to us. Alais ’group devised a sensory adaptation experiment and found that we do indeed process facial pareidolia in a similar way as we do for facial rights, according to paper published last year in the journal Psychological Science.