Catch up on the series here:
Ok so I think this subject had to happen within this series, I am happy to say I have seen a big change over the years with people realising that Pareidolia is a valid argument for a great deal of paranormal pics thrown into the pools of social media.
This is all well and good except as with most things in the paranormal community it gets used again and again without many people actually looking into the subject! It’s become quite an annoying buzzword that people comment on everything!
I thought it would be good to explain what this is and what is happening within the brain that allows it to happen!
This way hopefully individuals can explain to others who don’t understand the single word of ‘Pareidolia’ when it’s commented on a photo they have asked a group to look at.
What is experienced?
So Pareidolia is a form of apophenia this is the brains ability to make sense of information and create patterns in things that just aren’t there! Pareidolia applies to predominantly the visual and audio side of our senses.
I will explain apophenia in detail in a later post but for now we will stick with Pareidolia for now due to its importance in paranormal research!
Pareidolia is our ability to see faces, bodies or shapes in meaningless stimuli, eg seeing faces, monsters, Angels, animals etc in clouds when really it is just condensed water vapour in a random shape!
It also includes hearing voices, music and words in meaningless sound, some in the paranormal community call this matrixing (not sure of the origins) it’s actually pareidolia but whatever floats your boat because that ship is staying by the looks of things!
What is really happening?
Well once again our ever so ‘reliable’ brain is playing with us, and the best part of pareidolia is………….I can prove it!!!! Right here in this post but I will get to that,
For the more technical side of pareidolia the part of the brain that is known to cause this phenomena is the right fusiform which is part of the temporal and obsitial lobe, this has been shown in MRI studies to spark to life when individuals are shown faces and effectively face looking objects, the only variation found between a real face and an object that looks like a face is the reaction time for the brain to recognise it, a face looking object takes longer for the brain to ‘connect the dots’ and decide upon what it is seeing.
This recognition can also be manipulated using something referred to as ‘anchoring’ in which another stimuli is added to enable the viewer to see/hear something that they maybe couldn’t before, this is common place in the paranormal community and a complete pain in the backside for any serious investigator out there, this is done be it by using words during EVP playback on the screen to ensure the listeners hears the word the individual thinks is being said or a back story to a photograph or video that ensures the individual is looking for certain details, and please don’t get my started on circling and zooming in to certain areas of a photo or video! (I will on purposely show this further on)
This is an example of Anchoring (NOTE: SCROLL DOWN SLOWLY TO NOT SPOIL THE EXAMPLE)
This is a good example of what happens for someone who has not seen this reference before, those who have will already have seen that coming and come to the conclusion that it looks like a drunk octopus wanting to fight, you see this also shows a level of anchoring, as the internet has so nicely put it “what is seen cannot be unseen”, so imagine you have a massive interest in the paranormal and you go out photographing haunted locations and you catch an orb or atmospheric object (mists, fog, smudges on mirrors etc).
Take this example from Gloucester Paranormal the team picked up this image and realised it was brilliant example of Pareidolia (NOTE THE BELOW IMAGE IS NOT OF A GHOST)
****NOTE THIS IS NOT AN IMAGE OF A GHOST, THIS IS A TYPICAL EXAMPLE OF PAREIDOLIA*****
When most in the paranormal community look at these photos they are actively looking for a spirit, ghost or anything out of the ordinary and there is a very good chance that because they are in that paranormal mind set you are going to create patterns in the brain that point predominantly to faces of ghosts or people like shapes, this is pareidolia in action. Once this happens you cannot reverse it easily, your brain follows the same path again and again in order to fill gaps and makes the person seeing the photo instantly look for paranormal based images. Unfortunately studies have found that believers in the paranormal or magical are more likely to assign these patterns to ghosts and demons etc. along with emotions to the false image than the actual natural or technical explanation.
These include witnessing faces in particle orbs or patterns in smoke – see this video on the ParaRationalise Facebook page to see an example.
We have a vast bank of memories of pretty much all faces / sounds and words we have ever experienced, this will help explain when people easily recognise these patterns as looking like loved ones or sounding like people they know, as you walk down a street your brain is constantly absorbing new information, as well as in horror films, cartoons and popular media, to our brain it is a requirement for our survival to note the faces / sounds as often as possible to show if we are in danger, the brain does this very fast and without our conscious knowledge.
This all happens with objects also, it can depend on the mindset of the individual to what they see first, this idea inspired the development of the Rorschach ink blot test which was later found to be difficult and near enough useless to help explain an individual’s mental issues but shows that we can see images in random stimuli.
So let’s look at some examples of visual Pareidolia, some maybe funny some maybe confusing and some maybe rude but I will explain in the title below the image what it is so if you don’t want a spoiler scroll down slowly:
A dogs backside? Or Jesus Christ?
A door and 2 Windows? Or a surprised house?
A broom against a wall? Or well… I’ll let your right fusiform decide that?
You should be getting the point by now, remember “what is seen cannot be unseen” so let’s look at a few more examples…………
Tea light holders? Or a row of scared/shocked faces?
So as for audio pareidolia there is a lot of pieces of equipment that can induce it and make individuals feel they have communicated or recorded an experience, equipment like the spirit box for example which flicks through radio waves at the speed selected by the users, or using white noise in an attempt to find EVP’s with a recorder this just exacerbates the effects of pareidolia, Unfortunately a lot of these recorders also have issues with small artefacts appearing in a recording that can make the listener believe an EVP has been caught and cause individuals to label what is apparently being said.
This can also be more prominent in certain individuals and I hear from a lot of investigators that have named themselves, ‘kings or queens of the EVP’ which actually means they aren’t very good at monitoring these situations and could catch an EVP in any kind of audio stimuli.
This phenomena does not only happen in our brain it is also a defect present in imaging software such as facial recognition on cameras or the recognition software on Kinect cameras, this can lead to an increase in reports from users that have had a scary experience of their camera’s recognising someone in a photograph that is in fact not there this also works with Kinect cameras when people tend to see what looks like a dancing person on the screen with nothing visually there to the individual present. (see images below)
So after all of these examples I hope you can see and understand much better as to what our brains are capable of and how we do see these things? Hopefully now when someone posts up in the comments sections of a photo or video – “ITS PAREIDOLIA”, you can now understand exactly what it means and involves. This should enable you to realise that the quote of “a picture never lies” couldn’t in fact be more wrong! Our brains accidently ensure that is the case!
What an investigator should do!
The first thing for an investigator is to understand what it is that is happening (which I hope the above explains), this knowledge can then be passed to any individuals involved in either an investigation or looking to yourselves to consult them for answers on an EVP, Video or Photo.
Use examples to show the individual how it works, keep some in a case file to make things easier especially at first contact stage, this will only be a hope that they will want to take on board any of the information.
You will come across countless examples of pareidolia during investigations either in data you have collected yourself or data a client has collected prior to the investigation being required.
If you come across an EVP and you think you hear a clear voice within it, set up a network of individuals that have no real involvement in the paranormal, send them the recording via email or flash drive with no reference to what has been heard or any details of the investigation and let them tell you what they hear, do this with a multitude of individuals and see if they all decide the same as you do, even after this exercise it will only show you the clarity of what was heard but is worth storing away in the interesting folder for later.
What an investigator should NOT do!
As always an investigator should not go into an investigation with the idea that ghosts or spirits are causing any phenomena, to confirm when asked that a picture is paranormal especially without any investigation shows a great lack of experience in the investigator as well as causing an individual to instantly secure the belief that what they are experiencing is 100% a spirit or a ghost. This can have many complications to both the client and the investigator.
I invite any corrections to research that may have updated since the time of the original post and I will update once I have confirmed the research is valid.
Thanks for reading and I look forward to your feedback!
Leonard Zusne & Warren H Jones – Anomalistic Psychology – A study of magical thinking
Carl Sagan (1995) – The demon haunted world – Science as a candle in the dark
Oliver Sacks – Hallucinations