A famous example of pareidolia is the Face on Mars from the Viking 1 mission. Even NASA saw it, releasing an initial version of the image with this caption in 1976: “… huge rock formation … which resembles a human head … formed by shadows giving the illusion of eyes, nose and mouth.” Image: NASA

Why Do We See Faces That Aren’t Real?

Jesus appears on a piece of toast. A freaky face pops out of a swirly pattern on floor tile. And of course, all kinds of cute and scary creatures hover in the clouds.

Humans are strange. Seeing things that aren’t there, or that are merely suggested by shapes, is called pareidolia. Most often it’s faces we see, and science has come up with some good explanations for what’s going on.

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Independent health & science journalist writing motivationally about the science of physical health & mental wellness. Former editor-in-chief of LiveScience.

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Robert Roy Britt

Robert Roy Britt

Independent health & science journalist writing motivationally about the science of physical health & mental wellness. Former editor-in-chief of LiveScience.

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