Encyclopedia of Autism Spectrum Disorders

Living Edition
| Editors: Fred R. Volkmar

Pareidolic Faces

  • Robert KingEmail author
Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4614-6435-8_102207-1



Pareidolia is the overinterpretation of stimuli in the external world to impose patterns where none exist. This can apply to any sensory modality but is most commonly applied to visual stimuli. Within this realm, the term is often used to refer to the common human tendency to see faces where no faces are present. Familiar instances would include faces in the clouds, images of saviors in burnt toast, and the Man in the Moon (Liu et al. 2014).

Faces are perhaps the most socially significant visual stimuli encountered in the human environment (Palermo and Rhodes 2007). Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is characterized by deficits in response to social stimuli (APA 2013). Thus, it has been hypothesized that those with ASD may be less susceptible to this illusion should neurotypical humans. Furthermore, it has been suggested that this feature may be used as a diagnostic tool to identify ASD at a relatively early developmental stage. Both of these hypotheses have received some empirical support.

In respect of the former, there is evidence that children with ASD do not pay particular attention to real faces (Kikuchi et al. 2009), at least not spontaneously (Guillon et al. 2016).

In respect of the latter, it has been found that children with ASD are less sensitive to pareidolic faces – that is, to objects that most people spontaneously report as possessing a face (Ryan et al. 2016).

References and Reading

  1. American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Washington, DC: Author.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Guillon, Q., Rogé, B., Afzali, M. H., Baduel, S., Kruck, J., & Hadjikhani, N. (2016). Intact perception but abnormal orientation towards face-like objects in young children with ASD. Scientific Reports, 6, 22119, 1–9.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Kikuchi, Y., Senju, A., Tojo, Y., Osanai, H., & Hasegawa, T. (2009). Faces do not capture special attention in children with autism spectrum disorder: A change blindness study. Child Development, 80(5), 1421–1433.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  4. Liu, J., Li, J., Feng, L., Li, L., Tian, J., & Lee, K. (2014). Seeing Jesus in toast: Neural and behavioral correlates of face pareidolia. Cortex, 53, 60–77.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  5. Palermo, R., & Rhodes, G. (2007). Are you always on my mind? A review of how face perception and attention interact. Neuropsychologia, 45, 75–92.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  6. Ryan, C., Stafford, M., & King, R. J. (2016). Brief report: Seeing the man in the moon: Do children with autism perceive Pareidolic faces? A pilot study. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 46(12), 3838–3843.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media LLC 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Applied PsychologyUniversity College CorkCorkIreland