Take a look at the image above; what do you see? Well, a brick obviously, but sarcastic comment aside, you’ll probably see a face. We apes have developed quite a knack for spotting patterns, thanks to the evolutionary process we’ve faced floating on this big rock in space—spotting patterns of faces in inanimate objects is no exception. It’s the reason why the famous “Face on Mars” photograph, essentially a trick of light and shadow on an image taken in 1976 which gave the illusion that there was a creepy-looking face on the planet, gained so much attention. Even freakier, people have claimed to see Jesus himself on toast… holy crust. But what causes us to see faces? Scientists have dubbed the psychological behaviour as facial pareidolia, and there’s actually more to this phenomenon than meets the eye.
Pareidolia is the tendency for perception to impose a meaningful interpretation on a nebulous stimulus, usually visual so that one sees an object, pattern or meaning where there is none. Common examples are perceived images of things like animals, faces, objects in cloud formations or in space objects—particularly the Moon. The list is long but if you’re in need of more convincing that it is, in fact, a natural and common trick of the mind, take a dive through the @FaceInThings Twitter account.
It’s claimed the concept of pareidolia can also be extended to hearing hidden messages in music played in reverse or at different speeds. This may explain why videos on YouTube claiming that ‘Stairway to Heaven‘ in reverse actually has hidden satanic messages—sorry to burst the bubble, that’s actually just pareidolia doing its thing, there’s no hidden agenda trying to sign people up to Satanism. At one point in time, pareidolia was considered a symptom of psychosis but it’s now recognised as a normal human tendency. Even computers have been able to display pareidolia-recognising faces in images when taught visual cues by scientists.
Okay, so the evidence is clear: it’s a perfectly natural phenomenon, we all see faces in inanimate objects—and thanks to science, you can be assured that you’re not experiencing any symptoms of psychosis. But that only explains that the concept does exist, not why it exists. Researchers at the University of Sydney have attempted to answer this question. They found that not only do we see faces in everyday objects, our brains process objects for emotional expression—similar to how we do for real faces—rather than disregarding the objects as ‘false’ detections. In the paper published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, they argued that this mechanism is perhaps an evolutionary trait, due to the need to quickly judge whether a person is a friend or foe.
Lead author, David Alais, a researcher at the University of Sydney, told The Guardian in an interview that “we are such a sophisticated social species and face recognition is very important…” He continued: “You need to recognize who it is, is it family, is it a friend or foe, what are their intentions and emotions? Faces are detected incredibly fast. The brain seems to do this using a kind of template-matching procedure. So if it sees an object that appears to have two eyes above a nose above a mouth, then it goes, ‘Oh I’m seeing a face’. It’s a bit fast and loose and sometimes it makes mistakes, so something that resembles a face will often trigger this template match.”
The next time you see a face in an object, whether that be a piece of fruit, a shot of the Moon or even just the clouds—don’t freak out, it’s just pareidolia. When you think about it, the concept is both fascinating and humbling: it’s a stark reminder that although we feel disconnected from our ancestors, we’re still bound to our evolved monkey-brain bodies. Oh, and sorry if I ruined your Jesus apparition fantasies—don’t read too much into it.
Mental health and physical health are talked about a lot. However, people don’t talk enough about brain health. In your 20s and 30s, your brain health probably isn’t top of your agenda—who cares how sharp you’re going to be in your 80s? However, as people slide into midlife, they really start to become aware of their declining brain health: forgetting where things are, not coming up with funny remarks as quickly, and more. This guide will show you a few things that you can do to keep your brain healthy.
It should come as no surprise that exercise is at the top of this list. Yes, it really is the answer to everything. It improves your physical health, your mental health, and your brain health. Regular exercise stimulates the growth of new brain cells and helps prevent age-related decline. Plus, it makes it easy to concentrate and keeps you mentally sharp. There’s no getting around it—you need to exercise if you want to live a long and healthy life.
Yep, sleep is important as well. Anyone who understands the human body won’t be shocked to see that high-quality sleep is linked to brain health as well. Sleep allows our body to repair and re-energise for the next day. If you miss out on sleep, your body and brain will suffer. How much sleep you get isn’t the only important thing either, the quality of the sleep matters. The more time spent in the REM stage of sleep, the better. That means you need uninterrupted sleep.
If you’re serious about improving your brain health, you should consider eating a Mediterranean diet. This diet involves a lot of vegetables, oil, fruit, fish, and nuts. According to experts, the most important ingredient in this diet (for brain health) is extra-virgin olive oil. It is thought to reduce the formation of plaque and tangles in the brain.
Believe it or not, gaming can actually help your brain stay healthier for longer. For years, people have falsely claimed that gaming rots your brain. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Games require active attention and stimulate the brain in a unique way. Check out the top casino games or play a game that is designed specifically for brain training.
If you don’t use it, you’ll lose it. This mantra is a great way to think about brain health. It’s important to use your brain actively every day if you want to stay sharp. Something as simple as a crossword puzzle every day can stimulate your brain and keep it from decaying. Never stop challenging yourself.
Social activity is really important if you want to keep your brain healthy. Building social networks and engaging in social activity improve cognitive function and keep your mind agile.
It can even reduce the risk of dementia. Who knew that having friends was actually good for your brain health? Stay in touch with your loved ones and your mind will stay sharp as a razor.