The term pareidolia (pronEng|pæraɪˈdoʊliə) describes a psychological phenomenon involving a vague and random stimulus (often an image or sound) being perceived as significant. Common examples include seeing images of animals or faces in clouds, the man in the moon, and hearing hidden messages on records played in reverse. The word comes from the Greek "para-" —"beside", "with" or "alongside"- meaning, in this context, something faulty or wrong (as in paraphasia, disordered speech)—and "eidolon"—"image" (the diminutive of "eidos"—"image", "form", "shape"). Pareidolia is a type of apophenia.



There have been many instances of perceptions of religious imagery and themes, especially the faces of religious figures, in ordinary phenomena. Many involve images of Jesus, the Virgin Mary, or the word Allah.

In 1978, a New Mexican woman found that the burn marks on a tortilla she had made appeared similar to the traditional western depiction of Jesus Christ's face. Thousands of people came to see the framed tortilla.cite book |last=Zusne |first=Leonard |coauthors=Warren H. Jones |title=Anomalistic Psychology: A Study of Magical Thinking |publisher=Lawrence Erlbaum Associates |year=1989 |isbn=0805805087 |pages=77-79 |url= |accessdate=2007-04-06]

The recent publicity surrounding sightings of religious figures and other surprising images in ordinary objects, combined with the growing popularity of online auctions, has spawned a market for such items on eBay. One famous instance was a grilled cheese sandwich with the Virgin Mary's face. [cite news | url = | title = 'Virgin Mary' toast fetches $28,000 | publisher = BBC News | date = 23 November 2004 | accessdate = 2006-10-27]

In September, 2007, the so-called "monkey tree phenomenon" caused a minor social mania in Singapore. A callus on a tree there resembles a monkey, and believers have flocked to the tree to pay homage to the Monkey God.cite news | url=,4139,141806,00.html | author = Ng Hui Hui| title = Monkey See, Monkey Do? | publisher = "The New Paper" | date = 13 September 2007| page=12, 13]


From the late 1970's through the early 1980's, Japanese researcher Chonosuke Okamura self-published a famous series of reports titled "Original Report of the Okamura Fossil Laboratory" in which he described tiny inclusions in polished limestone from the Silurian period (425 mya) as being preserved fossil remains of tiny humans, gorillas, dogs, dragons, dinosaurs, and other organisms, all of them only millimeters long, leading him to claim "There have been no changes in the bodies of mankind since the Silurian period . . . except for a growth in stature from 3.5 mm to 1,700 mm." [ [] Spamer, E. "Chonosuke Okamura, Visionary"]

Rorschach test

The Rorschach inkblot test uses pareidolia to attempt to gain insight into a person's mental state. The Rorschach is a projective test, because it intentionally calls out one's internal thoughts or feelings to be projected onto the cards. Projection in this instance is a form of "directed pareidolia" because the cards are not actually designed to resemble anything.


In 1971, Konstantin Raudive wrote "Breakthrough", detailing what he believed was the discovery of electronic voice phenomenon (EVP). EVP has been described as auditory pareidolia.

The allegations of backmasking in popular music have also been described as pareidolia.


Carl Sagan

Carl Sagan hypothesized that as a survival technique, human beings are "hard-wired" from birth to identify the human face. This allows people to use only minimal details to recognize faces from a distance and in poor visibility but can also lead them to interpret random images or patterns of light and shade as being faces. [cite book |last=Sagan |first=Carl |title=The Demon-Haunted World - Science as a Candle in the Dark |publisher =Random House |date=1995 |location=New York |id=ISBN 0-394-53512-X]

Clarence Irving Lewis

In his 1929 book "Mind and the World Order", epistemologist and logician Clarence Irving Lewis, a founder of the philosophical school of conceptual pragmatism, used the question of how to determine whether a perception is a mirage as a touchstone for his philosophical approach to knowledge. Lewis argued that one has no way of knowing whether or not perceptions are "true" in any absolute sense; all one can do is determine whether one's purpose is thwarted by regarding it as true and acting on that basis. According to this approach, two people with two different purposes will often have different views on whether or not to regard a perception as true. [Clarence Irving Lewis, "Mind and the World Order: Outline of a Theory of Knowledge". Dover reprint, 1991. ISBN 978-0486265643]


mesa, with shadows creating the famous Face on Mars

See also

* Apophenia
* Clustering illusion
* Face perception, for the cognitive process
* "Fooled by Randomness"
* Ghosts as an artifact of pareidolia
* Images of Jesus
* Paranoiac-critical method
* Perceptions of religious imagery in natural phenomena
* Simulacrum;Other natural examples
* Cydonia (the "Face on Mars")
* Man in the Moon
* Manicouagan Reservoir
* Old Man of the Mountain
* Moon rabbit


External links

* [ Fortean Times] examples of pareidolia in nature
* [ Religious Pareidolia] extensive collection of video and photographic demonstrations of pareidolia
* [] Skeptic's Dictionary definition of pareidolia
* [ Lenin in my shower curtain] (Bad Astronomy)
* [ The Stone Face: Fragments of An Earlier World]
* [ Feb. 13, 2007, article in "The New York Times" about cognitive science of face recognition]
* [ Cells in temporal cortex of conscious sheep can respond preferentially to the sight of faces. "Science". 1987 Apr 24;236(4800):448-50.]
* [ Invariant visual representation by single neurons in the human brain. "Nature". 2005 Jun 23;435(7045):1102-7.]

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Pareidolia — Saltar a navegación, búsqueda Este despertador parece tener una cara triste La pareidolia (derivada etimológicamente del griego eidolon: ‘figura’ o ‘imagen’ y el prefijo …   Wikipedia Español

  • pareidolia —    Also known as pareidolic illusion, partial hallucination, and additional image perception (German: Nebenbildwahrnehmung). The term parei dolia comes from the Greek words para (beside, near, resembling, accessory to, beyond, apart from,… …   Dictionary of Hallucinations

  • pareidolia — (payr.eye.DOH.lee.uh) n. The erroneous or fanciful perception of a pattern or meaning in something that is actually ambiguous or random. pareidolic adj. Example Citations: Pareidolia is common enough, and predates the space program by a… …   New words

  • pareidolia — noun /pær.aɪˈdəʊ.li.ə,pɛɹ.aɪˈə/ The tendency to interpret a vague stimulus as something known to the observer, such as interpreting marks on Mars as canals, seeing shapes in clouds, or hearing hidden messages in reversed music …   Wiktionary

  • pareidolia — n. misperception of random stimuli as real things or people, as when faces are vividly seen in the flames of a fire …   Medical dictionary

  • pareidolia — n. misperception of random stimuli as real things or people, as when faces are vividly seen in the flames of a fire …   The new mediacal dictionary

  • pareidolia — /pæraɪˈdoʊliə/ (say paruy dohleeuh) noun the perception of meaningfulness where there is none, as of a face in a geographical formation, of words in random sounds, of images in the clouds, etc. {coined from Greek para near, beside + eidōlon… …   Australian English dictionary

  • auditory pareidolia —    Also known as Rorschach audio and auditory peripheric hallucination. The term auditory pareidolia is indebted to the Greek words para (next to, in addition, beside) and eidos (image, appearance, looks). The eponym Rorschach audio refers to the …   Dictionary of Hallucinations

  • Парейдолия (Pareidolia) — нарушение восприятия, при котором человек может, например, четко видеть в пламени костра какиелибо предметы или лица людей, которых в действительности нет рядом с ним. Источник: Медицинский словарь …   Медицинские термины

  • ПАРЕЙДОЛИЯ — (pareidolia) нарушение восприятия, при котором человек может, например, четко видеть в пламени костра какиелибо предметы или лица людей, которых в действительности нет рядом с ним …   Толковый словарь по медицине

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