Recently I was rifling through the kitchen junk drawer at my mom’s apartment, and I found the scraper shown here. A very clear character immediately jumped out at me. I can’t imagine not seeing a face in this tool, with his crew cut hair, startled eyes, three‐dimensional nose, and shocked mouth. (Clearly, he was outraged at being forced into such a harshly lit photo!)


Several days before I happened upon Mr. Shocked Scraper, I noticed another episode of face pareidolia (the phenomenon of seeing faces where none actually exist). This time I was in Santa Barbara for work, and when I glanced at the door handle inside my hotel room I saw this surprised face staring back at me! The wide‐set eyes appeared under glossy dark hair, (or was that a Russian fur hat?) the nose was rakish but demure, and even though the mouth was occupied with what – a backwards pipe? – a bent lollipop? –  it still read as a face to me.

At one point it was assumed that only neurotic people saw faces like the ones above, (hmm, I protest!) but in a recent study conducted at the University of Toronto, in association with several Chinese universities, a different conclusion was reached. The lead researcher, Professor Kang Lee summed it up by saying,

…Our findings suggest that it’s common for people to see non‐existent features because human brains are uniquely wired to recognize faces, so that even when there’s only a slight suggestion of facial features the brain automatically interprets it as a face.

Furthermore, the team’s research showed that when you expect to see a face or a figure, it’s much more likely that you will see one. That’s also helpful to remember – you can set expectations, and let your viewer’s interpretive frontal cortex do the rest. One way to guide people is by labeling your images – make it easy for them! (After all, one aspect of our work is to bring clarity).

And keep your eye out for faces – in the clouds, in your oatmeal, or in the next tool you pick up. It may happen when you least expect it! I was just about to publish this blog and went to help my husband stabilize a shelving unit on the uneven floor of our basement. As he placed the board under the legs of the unit, I looked down – and there was E.T. (The Extraterrestrial) staring back at me! Ha – excellent timing! Check out #iseefaces for loads more. Enjoy!


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