Facial Recognition

Finding friendly faces in functional objects.

It’s not unusual to see patterns where they don’t exist. Think of cloud-formation sheep, that tub of butter that looked like Donald Trump or the image of Jesus that appeared in the bottom of a frying pan. The phenomenon is called pareidolia and is most often associated with seeing faces where they don’t belong. “The brain is constantly attempting to interpret the environment, and the result is that it picks up on familiar patterns,” explains Nouchine Hadjikhani, a neuroscientist and professor at Harvard University. “It’s our mind trying to extract a signal from the noise.”

According to Hadjikhani, a predisposition toward finding faces is a product of evolution; humans need other humans to survive, making early facial recognition an evolutionary imperative as a means of a...

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