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Have you ever seen the image of a face in a seemingly random set of objects or an unexpected place? This phenomenon is known as pareidolia, it’s the perception of a familiar pattern when none exists in reality. No one really knows why we see these faces, but many theorize that it results from a common cognitive mistake that we are prone to make: we over-interpret objects in our environment as human-like. For some of us, this could be because that’s just how our brains work, and for others it could be because something is motivating us to seek out human emotions or experiences.

Swipe through to see a selection of “faces” I have photographed around Boston, Cambridge, and Brookline. Seeing these in my environment is comforting; it’s like having a friend waiting for me to walk by them on the street. But, it has also become a game, and a way for me to study objects in my environment.

Contributed by Ian Hill, a fifth year graduate student in the Biological and Biomedical Sciences program at Harvard University, and our Featured Artist for January and February, 2018. To meet Ian and see more of his art, click here.

One thought on “Faces

  1. Greetings,

    I am Chandresh from Malaysia. I am writing this to you to request a 15-minute interview to talk about pareidolia. I am currently conducting research on pareidolia and its effect in people’s daily life aside from the potential benefits of a highly honed pareidolia in detecting patterns in various sectors such as crime, child education, psychological deformities and even disease diagnoses.
    It has come to my understanding that you have been part of a research team which did amazing work on pareidolia before. As such, I would like to conduct a one-to-one interview with you to get a better understanding on the subject which could greatly help me in my research.
    With regards to the research, here are some of the questions that I would like to know your opinion on to provide a slight insight on the scope that would be covered.

    1. Pareidolia has been defined essentially as the ability to detect patterns when there shouldn’t be one. In your research, is this a talent one is born with or a skill that can be practiced? If it is a skill, what are some of the methods that can be used to practice?

    2. What are your thoughts on the current effects of pareidolia, conscious or subconscious, in our daily lives that are either helpful or otherwise?

    3. The idea of pattern detecting could one day be very useful in the industries mentioned above such as the medical and educational sector. As such, what are the benefits and disadvantages of pareidolia and how do we maximise the benefits of pareidolia while minimising the downsides of it?

    These are some of the questions that would be asked in the interview regarding the research that I’m conducting. I certainly hope you would carve out 15 minutes of your time to aid in the revolutionising of a natural phenomenon that happens everyday within us and we haven’t noticed yet. If, however, you are unable to attend this interview, please refer my email to any of your colleagues studying this phenomenon.

    Yours Truly,
    Chandresh Prasad

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