It happens to all of us. But sometimes it happens to some of us more than others.

  • The knots in the wood grain in your basement paneling look like a dog.
  • You see the frowning face of a creepy clown in your duvet cover.
  • Apparently, the bathroom outlet finds you funny because it's always laughing at you.

Okay, all of those personally happened to me, but you get the idea.

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Getty Images
Getty Images

What Is Pareidolia?

Stay calm: This ability is called pareidolia (pronounced par-i-DOH-lee-a) and everyone has it to some degree. Well, you don't "have" it, you "exhibit" it, like a superpower. Pareidolia is defined as [shuffles pages of the Merriam-Webster Dictionary]: "...the human ability to see shapes or make pictures out of randomness."

Technically, it's not limited to just faces—people often see random shapes, but the most common occurrence is seeing faces. And this phenomenon is entirely normal.

Man on Mars Photo

When Paraeidolia Captures the Collective Imagination

Pareidolia can really come into play when a collective group of people seek answers, or explanations that might not be readily available, or even ones that they already believe. A good example of that is the "Face on Mars." Spotted in a 1976 image from the Viking 1 orbiter, later missions unveiled the formation to be a mix of light and shadows. At least, that's what NASA would have us believe.

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Our Brains Shape Perception

How Stuff Works has a great rundown of the ins and outs of pareidolia. They note that while it's easy to shrug this ability off as a quirky trick of the eye or even a reason to call yourself "a bit kooky," some science suggests that we shouldn't see this as our brains processing certain visuals as recognizable things. Instead, it's our brains guiding our eyes to locate these shapes in the first place.

So, yep, we are all superheroes. Let's go with that.

Keep scrolling and see if you can spot any faces in the collection of images below.

LOOK: Do you see faces in these photos?

Pareidolia refers to the ability to see recognizable shapes, often faces, in random objects. Take a look at the photos below and see if you can identify any faces or shapes. Some are easy to spot, while others might be more challenging.

Gallery Credit: Stephen Lenz

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Stacker has assembled 25 haunted places across America—from hotels and theaters to murder scenes and cemeteries—based on reported ghost sightings and haunted histories.

Gallery Credit: Stacker