Objects that induce face pareidolia are prioritized by the visual system

Nathan Caruana*, Kiley Seymour

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Citations (Scopus)
16 Downloads (Pure)


The human visual system has evolved specialized neural mechanisms to rapidly detect faces. Its broad tuning for facial features is thought to underlie the illusory perception of faces in inanimate objects, a phenomenon called face pareidolia. Recent studies on face pareidolia suggest that the mechanisms underlying face processing, at least at the early stages of visual encoding, may treat objects that resemble faces as real faces; prioritizing their detection. In our study, we used breaking continuous flash suppression (b-CFS) to examine whether the human visual system prioritizes the detection of objects that induce face pareidolia over stimuli matched for object content. Similar to previous b-CFS results using real face stimuli, we found that participants detected the objects with pareidolia faces faster than object-matched control stimuli. Given that face pareidolia has been more frequently reported amongst individuals prone to hallucinations, we also explored whether this rapid prioritization is intact in individuals with schizophrenia, and found evidence suggesting that it was. Our findings suggest that face pareidolia engages a broadly tuned mechanism that facilitates rapid face detection. This may involve the proposed fast subcortical pathway that operates outside of visual awareness.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)496-507
Number of pages12
JournalBritish Journal of Psychology
Issue number2
Early online date18 Dec 2021
Publication statusPublished - May 2022


  • continuous flash suppression
  • face perception
  • pareidolia
  • schizophrenia
  • vision


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