The good news is that you’re not hallucinating. The bad news is that if you see faces hidden in inanimate objects, such as electrical outlets or that avocado that you haven’t had the heart to eat and which is now rotting up your entire kitchen, it’s because you’re neurotic. Science says so!

According to a new study out of Japan, pareidolia (“the tendency to spot faces in random patterns”) is more present in those of us who are always on high alert and waiting for the future to fall apart because of a minor decision we might have made ten to twelve years ago. It’s just one more way that life reminds the neurotic population that threats are everywhere.

Researchers at the NTT Communication Science Laboratory in Tokyo asked participants to look at pages of randomly placed dots and report what they saw. The participants also took a survey which collected information on their personality type and current mood state beforehand. The researchers found that those people who scored higher on neuroticism and reported negative moods were also more likely to see human faces in the patterns.

From The Science of Us:

...the fact that neurotic people — who tend to be more tense, nervous, and emotionally unstable than non-neurotic people — seem to be predisposed for pareidolia is likely an evolutionary holdover: Their nerves put them on higher alert for threats, which may mean that they see danger where it actually isn’t. In this case, the researchers argue, that danger takes the form of a face.

Of course, it’s possible that there are other reasons why participants saw faces—and, as The Science of Us points out, once you start noticing patterns, you can’t stop seeing them—but the researchers’ reasoning also makes sense. After all, what’s scarier to a neurotic person than a threatening human face? Probably only a face brimming with disappointment.


Contact the author at mark.shrayber@jezebel.com.

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