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Brief Report: Seeing the Man in the Moon: Do Children with Autism Perceive Pareidolic Faces? A Pilot Study


Faces are one of the most socially significant visual stimuli encountered in the environment, whereas pareidolias are illusions of faces arising from ambiguous stimuli in the environment. Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is characterised by deficits in response to social stimuli. We found that children with ASD (n = 60) identify significantly fewer pareidolic faces in a sequence of ambiguous stimuli than typically developing peers. The two groups did not differ in the number of objects identified, indicating that the children with ASD had a specific lack of attention to faces. Pareidolia have considerable potential as naturalistic and easy-to-create materials for the investigation of spontaneous attention to social stimuli in children with ASD.

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We wish to thank all the children and families who took part in the study. The manuscript was prepared based on the thesis submitted by the second author to University College, Cork.

Author Contributions

The study was conceived by MS, in discussion with RK and CR. MS designed the study and collected the data. Data analysis was done by CR and MS. CR coordinated and drafted the manuscript with contributions from both RK and MS. All authors read and approved of the final manuscript. 


This study was carried out without external funding.

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Correspondence to Christian Ryan.

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All authors declares that they have no conflict of interest.

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All procedures performed in this study were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

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Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

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Ryan, C., Stafford, M. & King, R.J. Brief Report: Seeing the Man in the Moon: Do Children with Autism Perceive Pareidolic Faces? A Pilot Study. J Autism Dev Disord 46, 3838–3843 (2016).

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  • Autism spectrum disorder
  • Face perception
  • Social attention
  • Protofacial stimuli
  • Pareidolia