Home > News, Skeptic > Skeptic Skills Review: Pareidolia; The Case of the Kate Middleton Jelly Bean

Skeptic Skills Review: Pareidolia; The Case of the Kate Middleton Jelly Bean

I was prompted to write about pareidolia, the phenomenon of seeing shapes or patterns in everyday stuff, because of this facepalm-inducing story from The Telegraph.

Jelly bean resembling Kate Middleton to fetch £500

Kate Middleton and the jelly bean found by Wesley Hosie and Jessica White of Taunton Photo: SWNS

Yes, the bride in the upcoming Royal Wedding has been spotted in Jelly bean form. And its big news for the Brits.

The British really confuse me. Not only do they waste huge amounts of tax payer dollars so that the useless Monarchy can live a life of luxury, purely for being figureheads. It is an outdated form of government and I don’t understand it.

But a jellybean? Seriously?

This is a classic instance of pareidolia. Though pareidolia can occur for all types of shapes and patterns, it is especially strong for patterns that look like human faces.

People are seeing Kate Middleton’s face everywhere in buildup to this Royal Wedding. It is at the forefront of their minds. And when a random collection of food dye happens to look like a person with long hair, it HAS to be Kate Middleton! (Could also be Kurt Cobain if you ask me)

But it doesn’t just happen with jellybeans. People have claimed to see the Virgin Mary’s face in things from toast to soiled bed sheets. There was the infamous Face on Mars, which turned out to be just a big hill.

The infamous 'Face on Mars' taken by Viking 1 in 1976. Photo: NASA

The 'Face on Mars' photographed again in 2001 by the Mars Global Surveyor. Photo: NASA

So why does this happen to us?

Humans have evolved to rapidly recognize human faces as a safety mechanism. Being able to see in an approaching person is a friend or an enemy was quite advantageous to developing species.

A study in 2009

found that objects incidentally perceived as faces evoked an early (165ms) activation in the ventral fusiform cortex, at a time and location similar to that evoked by faces, whereas common objects did not evoke such activation

Our brains are hard-wired to quickly recognize face-like patterns, which is why this kind of story pops up so much. It is also why the ‘faces’ are always famous person or religious figures, instead of your brother Bob or my cousin Phil. They evoke an emotional response and so faces that we see photographed or on TV all the time are often the first ones our memories access.

But I’m sure someone will pay a lot of money for this delicious candy. I mean, have you seen some of the crap they’ve been selling with the happy couple’s faces on it?

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