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Oh, My Fateful Brain

Our brain is wired to find meaning in stimuli even when the stimulus lacks clarity of form.  Most notably, we find ourselves constructing images or meaningful features out of clouds and rock formations.  This tendency is called "pareidolia".  Defined; it acknowledges a misperception of a vague stimulus as having distinctiveness.  Such is the case of the well recognized man-in-the-moon image.

Not surprisingly, individuals suffering from hallucinatory tendencies in the schizophrenic syndrome often aggravate pareidolia.  In so doing, they believe the images to be personal revelations just for them.  Unfortunately, many of these images are recognized as threatening or evil, which seems to be true even for the normal brain.

The fusiform cortex sitting underneath the brain in the posterior region is responsible for facial recognition.  Researchers from Dartmouth College have found the brain to be lateralized with respect to objects resembling faces vs. actual faces themselves.  That is, the left fusiform gyrus was more active during fMRI imaging of look-alikes than was the right.

The following are some examples of pareidolia:

Satan in the smoke.  Photojournalist Mark Phillips captured the World Trade Center seconds after the second plane attack on 9/11.  This image has been analyzed by Kreinvoch A. & Iourinski D. in the journal article: Was there satan's face in the World Trade Center Fire? Geombinatorics, 2003, 12 (2), 69-75.

pareidolia--satan in smoke image

Testicular agony.  An ultrasound image of the scrotal area from a 45 year old man suffering severe testicular pain revealed an agonizing facial expression.  The urologists were shocked enough when the face contorted with agony that they submitted the account to the journal Urology, 2011, 78 (3), 565.  The face of testicular pain; a surprising ultrasound finding. Roberts, G.G. & Touma, N.J.

 pareidolia--testicular face image

Devil's head in the queen's hair.  Canadian bank notes issued in 1954 featured a portrait of Queen Elizabeth II.  While looking serene and majestic, a grinning demon can be detected in the curls of her hair behind the left ear.  The issued $20 notes became known as the "devil's head" or the "devils' face" banknote series.  Two years later, the Bank of Canada had the hair contours darkened and in so doing exorcised the demon from Canadian currency.

pareidolia--queens hair image

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Dr. Arvin Oke is a Professor of Psychology at MidAmerica Nazarene University and fellow at the Morris K. Udhall Center of Excellence in Parkinson's research at the University of Kentucky.

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Guest Friday, 25 July 2014

About This Blog

OhBehave is the outreach blog of the MNU Behavioral Sciences Department. In matters related to Psychology, Sociology, and Criminal Justice you will find information and updates geared to keep students and professionals abreast of the latest research, professional developments, and important trends in each field. As we seek a life of purpose, the material presented in this blog is meant to enhance and deepen our understanding of people and our world so that we may intentionally reflect the grace and peace of our creator.