Seeing faces in everyday objects is a common thing, but who knew we were imposing a gender on these images.
And more often than not, it’s a male face that we see.
People are more likely to see male faces when they see an image on a tree trunk or on burnt toast at breakfast, research from the University of Queensland has found.
The illusion of seeing a facial structure in an everyday object is called facial pareidolia, and Dr Jessica Taubert from UQ School of Psychology says it tells us a lot about how our brain detects and recognizes social cues.
“The goal of our study was to understand whether instances of facial pareidolia convey the kinds of social cues that faces normally convey, such as expression and biological sex,” Dr. Taubert said.
“Our results showed a striking bias in gender perception, with significantly more illusory faces perceived as male than female.”
Dr. Taubert believes that the results of the study which involved 3,800 people show that we need more clues to label a female face.
“We know that when we see faces in objects, that illusion is processed by parts of the human brain that are dedicated to processing real faces, so in theory face pareidolia ‘tricks the brain,'” said the Dr Taubert.
“Participants were able to recognize the emotional expressions conveyed by these particular objects and assign them a specific age and gender.
“We now have evidence that these illusory stimuli are processed by the brain by areas involved in social perception and cognition, so we can use facial pareidolia to identify these specific areas.
“We can compare the way our brain recognizes emotions, age and biological sex to the performance of computers trained to recognize these signals.
“Additionally, we can use these interesting stimuli to test abnormal behavior patterns.”
The UQ research team wants more examples of facial pareidolia. If you spot a face – male or female – in an inanimate object, email the photo to [email protected].