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Pareidolic illusion

A variety of illusions (so-called "sensory illusions")») it consists in forming illusory images, which are based on the details of a real object. Thus, a vague and unintelligible visual image is perceived as something distinct and definite-for example, the figures of people and animals in the clouds, the image of a person on the surface of the moon, "hidden messages" heard when reversing audio recordings, shadows formed by leaves or other surrounding things in a certain light (sometimes at a certain angle).

In General, this is called apophenia. This term refers to the experience of being able to see structure or relationships in random or meaningless data. 

The word "illusion" comes from the Latin word "illusio", which means "delusion" or "deception". The explanatory dictionary defines this word as a distorted perception of a real object or phenomenon that allows for ambiguous interpretation.

There is a whole section on our site that contains a General description of the illusions that can give a person the impression that they have encountered some unexplained phenomenon. Such distortions of perception can occur both in mental disorders and in healthy people. They can be caused by both physiological features of the organs of perception, and special States of consciousness caused by psychological shocks or the effects of chemicals.

In this article, we will look in detail at the illusions of "expectation" that arise under the influence of pronounced mood swings or in connection with the affect of fear, anxiety, which may result in "meeting with the unknown". In General terms, this type of illusion is known as "pareidolic illusions" – a type of visual illusion that consists in the formation of illusory images, which are based on the details of a real object. Thus, a vague and unintelligible visual image is perceived as something distinct and definite (for example, figures of people and animals in the clouds, an image of a person's face on the surface of Mars, "hidden messages" heard when reversing audio recordings).

Each person can tell at least one story about how he was frightened at night by a silhouette sitting on a chair or standing in the corridor of a Ghost. To illustrate, here are some examples of such stories:

"I couldn't sleep for a long time, lying on the bed in my room. The room was dimly lit by the bluish light of the clock face and the occasional glare from the headlights of passing cars. As I was falling asleep, I noticed the black silhouette of an old man in a dark corner of the room. He was sitting in a chair with his head on one side. My skin crawled. I began to blink frequently and even rubbed my eyes with my hands, trying to remove the obsession, but I saw it again as soon as I looked in the far corner. There was no need to look closely now. I saw him so clearly that I thought I could see not only his wrinkled face, but also the piercing look in his eyes. I hid my head under the covers and tried to distract myself and go to sleep, but sleep wouldn't come. I wanted to say a prayer, but the words were constantly confused in my head and didn't want to form the right sentences. Then I decided to count. When I counted to three hundred, I lost track, but I felt that I had calmed down enough and decided to look out of my hiding place. The first thing I saw was the old man's eyes. A new wave of horror washed over me. I was about to scream and run out of the room when a car drove past the window. Before my eyes, instead of the old man, the light picked out a blanket that was lying in a lump on a chair."

"I got up at night to drink water. Sleepy, I walk down the corridor and suddenly see that a white Ghost is hanging in front of me at full height. I jumped out of the way. The adrenaline rush finally woke me up, but the Ghost didn't go away and continued to float in the air. In the next few seconds, suppressing the urge to run back and hide under the covers, I flipped the light switch and saw my sister's beige coat hanging on a hanger in front of me. In the morning, she said through laughter that she hung it out so that in the morning the whole house would not Wake up with the slamming of the closet door."

Most often, these stories are told by children, but sometimes this can happen to an adult.

"My husband and I were very young then. Before going to bed, for some reason, we started talking about devils. My husband tried to convince me, they say, women's fairy tales. They argued-argued, and went to bed. I've already started to doze off, I feel Kolya pushing me. I open my eyes, and he looks so scared – look, damn it! I look and don't see anyone where he's pointing. He won't calm down – there, he says, horns, tail. I looked closely – Yes, it's true, damn it! I saw him, then. I was terrified, I was shaking, and I was afraid to jump, as soon as I turned on the light. I look: my husband is sitting pale on the bed, and by the stove and not a devil at all, but a bucket and a rag so bizarrely formed that they looked like a silhouette of a devil in the dark. I'll turn off the light – damn it, and when I turn it on – a rag with a bucket."

These stories can be creatures quite normal, for example: person, man, woman, dog, cat, etc., which cause a feeling of fear that suddenly appear indoors, that person is protected. Sometimes it is because of such sudden appearances that they are called not just, for example, "woman", but "witch" (for children, "Baba Yaga"). 

Most of these cases are mystical creatures: devils, aliens, ghosts, etc. The sudden appearance of them in a closed room does not cause fear due to the specifics of ideas about them. Here there is a fear that the creature may, for example, attack, or its appearance promises some trouble in life.

Often we do not notice such illusions. We can see the same curtain every night when we go to bed, but in order to notice a Ghost in it, we need a certain attitude, a certain psychological readiness for such a "meeting".

This is well illustrated by the following experiment:

Here's a BLOB. What do you see on it?


With a good imagination, it turns out a lot of different images. As a rule, they are items that are familiar to you, and first of all, that you currently care about. You have examined this blot in detail, found at least one image on it, and now every time you look at this blot, you will notice it first.

Now let's set the image: a bald man with a big nose and round eyes. Take another look at the BLOB. Have you found it? If not, select it:


And now?

Now looking at the image, you will definitely distinguish this group of random spots from the total mass, even if you did not notice it before.

In addition to all the images on the blot found: Mickey mouse, horse head, devil, and even an alien. Even if you didn't find them before, now your brain will pick them out. Here they are:



Often the psychological preparation for finding an image is implicit.

For example, if you listen to or start humming the song of a mammoth from the cartoon "Mama for a mammoth", then the blot is easily a mammoth. We will not specify it, because, as it turned out, everyone finds their own mammoth and there are at least three of them in the picture.

The same effect can be observed when looking at photos of trees and bushes.


Application in practice

When a person feels anxiety and fear, but can not understand its causes, the method based on the described illusion can help to realize them. It is often used in their practice by healers who "pour out" fear with candle wax.


The result of "Pouring out fear" with wax.

This method is also used by certified psychologists who study personality traits. It is known as the Rorschach test or "Rorschach spots" [2]. Each figure depicted on the paper serves as an incentive for free associations – the subject must name any words, images or ideas that arise from him. The test is based on the assumption that what an individual "sees" in a blot is determined by the characteristics of their own personality in a broad sense, or by what they are focused on at the time of the test.

Auditory illusions

Almost everyone is familiar with the effect when, while bathing in the shower, we hear a call or a calling voice over the noise of the water, and when we turn off the water, the sound disappears.

Here we observe the same illusion described above, but for the ear. We hear words, melodies, or other sounds expected in this situation among the white noise [4] (in this case, water sounds).

Such techniques (listening to the noise of water, TV or radio that is not tuned to the broadcast wave, inverted sound recording) are often used to contact ghosts, aliens and other mystical entities. In the state of waiting for such contact, you can hear names, words, and sometimes whole phrases of different content in the same noise.


Illusions are very common in our lives. Sometimes they help us solve problems, sometimes they distract us. Everyone wants to face the unknown, and some are even willing, consciously or not, to deceive themselves. And those who want to meet a truly unexplained case, sometimes have to look at the world with different eyes. In order to find out whether you are really looking at an illusion or a phenomenon, sometimes it is enough to turn on the light or distract yourself a little. And perhaps it will be something unexplained.

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