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Pareidolia: Why we see faces in nature and unusual places

Tuesday, June 16th 2020, 2:30 pm - Some scientists say there's a reason why we enjoy searching for faces in the clouds.

Have you ever seen a face in a cloud? Or eyes in a tree trunk? If so, you are not alone and scientists actually have a term for this fascinating psychological phenomenon.

Researchers call it pareidolia, which is the false perception of seeing a non-existent face or pattern in everyday objects. Some evolutionary psychologists say that seeing human characteristics in non-living things was advantageous to our ancestors and helped them survive for a variety of reasons.

ugc face in clouds Captured in St. Catherines, Ontario. Submitted by Kim Anderson.

Carl Sagan, a scientist that was specialized in a wide variety of subjects, theorized that babies are more likely to be cared for and have a better chance of survival if they can recognize a face. Sagan reasoned that babies would be more likely to “win the hearts of their parents” and would be better cared for if they were able to smile back at the faces they see.

This phenomenon also could have protected ancestors from predators, according to Sagan. Thinking that there is a face in the distance would have helped humans brace for a potential predator, which would have improved their chance of surviving and protecting their offspring.

"A classic example is the Stone Age guy standing there, scratching his beard, wondering whether that rustling in the bushes really is a sabre-toothed tiger. You're much more likely to survive if you assume it's a sabre-toothed tiger and get the hell out of there - otherwise you may end up as lunch," explained Christopher French of the British Psychological Society in an interview with BBC.

See below for a look at the experiences Weather Network viewers had with pareidolia.

big ugc 6 Captured in Rockland, Ontario. Submitted by Anna Fabijanski.

actual big ugc 4 Captured Fort William First Nation, Ontario. Submitted by Ron Bortolon.

big ugc willox Captured in Torrox, Spain, Submitted by Brendon Willox.

ugc face in cloud lisa becker edmonton Captured in Edmonton, Alberta. Submitted by Lisa Becker.

big ugc 2 Captured at Van Deusen Gardens, Vancouver, British Columbia. Submitted by Marian Cohen.

big rock face Captured in Pokeshaw, New Brunswick. Submitted by Anthony Phillips

big ugc Captured in Royston, British Columbia. Submitted by Tanja Kerr.

big ugc 1 Captured in Brentwood Bay, British Columbia. Submitted by Bob Savage.

tree big Captured in Calgary, Alberta. Submitted by Tara Little-Pettifor.

big ugc 3 Captured in London, Ontario. Submitted by Karen Riddell.

big ugc 7 Captured in Arnprior, Ontario.

big ugc 5 Captured in London, Ontario. Submitted by Billie Krukowski.

big smile Captured in Cambridge, Ontario. Submitted by Jason Walsh.

ugc eye in the sky Captured in Swan Hills, Alberta. Submitted by David Fitzpatrick.

ugc philip waldner Captured in Elie, Manitoba. Submitted by Philip Waldner.

big ugc kelly Captured in Algonquin Highlands. Submitted by Kelly Meighan.

big hand A "hand of darkness" reaches out from the storm clouds. Captured in St. Paul County No. 19, Alberta. Credit: Lorraine Ference

rainbow person ugc A view of the water from a ferry. Captured in Grand Manan Island, New Brunswick. Submitted by Peter Duguid.

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