Elephant Head?

Humans have the need to make order out of chaos and the everyday mundane. One psychological phenomenon is the tendency to incorrectly see connections and images that are not “real,” but in our imaginations. The word used to describe this tendency is Pareidolia.

According to Webster pareidolia is the tendency for us to hold incorrect perception of a stimulus as an object, pattern or meaning known to the observer. 

Rocks and Clouds Pareidolia

Common examples of pareidolia are “The Man in the Moon,” images of animals or faces in cloud formations, and facial patterns in trees and rock formations.

Man in the Moon image found on Facebook

Psychologists have for a long time used the random images of inkblots to help to dive deeper into the psyche of their patients. Known as Rorschach tests, these patterns are believed to be parts of our vivid imagination that can be revealing and insightful about previous, inaccessible feelings or experiences. The Rorschach test subjects’ perceptions of inkblots are recorded and analyzed using psychological interpretation, complex algorithms, or both. Some psychologists use this test to examine a patient’s personality characteristics.

Inkblot test in Rorschach collection

The concept of pareidolia may have some common extensions to include hidden messages in recorded music played backwards (in reverse) or at higher- or lower-than-normal speeds. Other common phenomena include hearing voices (mainly indistinct) or music, in random noises such as those sounds produced by air conditioners or rotating and wobbly fans.

Tree growth pareidolia

At one time psychologists believed that seeing pareidolia was considered a symptom of psychosis; however, today it is now seen as a normal human tendency. Scientists have gone so far at to teach computers through AI to use visual clues to “see” faces and other images in the patterns around them. [1]

[1] https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/pareidolia