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Pareidolia is the tendency to recognise faces all around us. But what causes it? And where does the phenomenon come from? Science considers facial recognition to be a cognitive bias. It means we therefore tend to emphasise our observations, interpretations, and information received as biased and incorrect. According to the researchers, pareidolia “violates the processes of normative reasoning, i.e. is contrary to a consistent and valid way of thinking.”

Although facial recognition is quite harmless as such, pareidolia is also associated with conformity (act of matching attitudes, beliefs, and behaviours to group norms, politics or being like minded), confabulation (memory error defined as the production of fabricated, distorted, or misinterpreted memories), confusion of information sources (uncertainty about the origin of the information), and confirmation bias (tendency to search for, interpret, favour, and recall information that confirms or support one’s prior personal beliefs or values). Science has not found a proper explanation for the phenomenon.

However, the hereditary defect of the human psyche provides an opportunity to explain what this bias is all about. In fact, it can be seen as a part of the child’s defense mechanism designed to help a child to stick to safe people and avoid strangers by forcing him/her to look for facial features. It is likely to help the child distinguish safe encounters from suspicious ones. This is a mentally powerful restraint but apparently it has been necessary during the millions of years we have had to struggle with our lives.

Why do adults have pareidolia, if it only belongs to children?

It is because those mechanisms do not disappear during adulthood even they should. This is caused by a hereditary growth defect, or a genetic defect, the same that explains many other oddities of human sensory perception and cognition. Because of this genetic defect, every adult human has a child’s psyche. The psyche of other animals, on the other hand, works normally. And it is for this very reason that it is tragic, albeit at the same time very human, that humanity considers itself to be better and more developed than other animals.

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