Researchers say that the phenomena known as face pareidolia, where some people see images of Jesus or other religious figures, is normal behavior. A recent study conducted at the University of Toronto shows that the occurrence is not uncommon, and demonstrates that your brain is functioning properly, when familiar images are recognized in commonly observed objects.
Perhaps since time began, the phenomenon has been frequently reported, where religious figures have been observed on inanimate objects, but there has been no scientific explanation. The study indicates that the reaction may be instinctive, and we are programmed to see faces on virtually anything, including pancakes, the surface of Mars and even in a grilled cheese sandwich that sold on eBay for $28,000. The observation may even add fuel the famous aphorism uttered by Albert Einstein that “Science without religion is lame, and religion without science is blind.”
The phenomenon, known as face pareidolia, has been acknowledged for centuries, and can occur in different forms. Some have reported seeing the face of Jesus in toast, while others have seen Buddha.
Results of the research, published in the journal Cortex, suggests that the causes of seeing Jesus or other religious figures in food are physical responses, and there is no mental abnormality associated with seeing non-existent faces. The human brain is wired to recognize faces, and if there is a slight suggestion of facial features, the brain responds by interpreting a face.
The study, led by Professor Kang Lee of the Eric Jackman Institute of Child Study at the University of Toronto, also included some findings from Chinese academic institutions such as Xidian University, Beijing Jiaotong University, and the Institute of Automation Chinese Academy of Sciences. The research included examination of the brain scans of several persons, using MRI technology to learn what happens in the brain when the phenomena are observed. They determined that when it is expected, the frontal cortex is activated, and signals are sent to the posterior visual cortex, which then actually processes the images that are expected to be seen.
Pictures produced with scanning technology were shown to 20 people with normal eyesight, but the subjects were told that half of the pictures contained letters or faces. The participants in the study reported seeing letters in 38 percent of the images, and they also reported seeing faces in 34 percent of the images that the researchers described as nothing more than noise.
Examination of the brain scans indicates that there is neural network in the brain that is responsible for face pareidolia, where both the occipitotemporal regions and the frontal cortex regions are activated. It suggests that people can see what they expect to see, and this activates the regions of the brain that is responsible for processing images.
Researchers explain that seeing Jesus images in your food is a topdown process, as the sensory input or suggestion, results in interpretation of what is to be expected, as is the case with facial features. The frontal cortex is actively participating in the process of visual perception. The results of the study may give a new meaning and interpretation to the phrase “seeing is believing” and suggests the corollary may be just as pertinent where “believing is seeing”
By Dale Davidson