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2014 The Bad Science Show - Melbourne School Shows & School Incursions

How To See Ghosts (Pareidolia)

"There's an easy way to tell if your house is haunted.

It isn't."

Jimmy Carr

*This resource is intended for use after viewing The Bad Science Show. Students should be reminded of the portion of the show the lesson relates to.

 

Purpose

To learn about the phenomena of Pareidolia and how it makes people see what they think of as ghosts. Students should be better equiped to spot the phenomena as well as question the evidence used to prove ghosts exist.

 

Introduction

Pareidolia is a psychological phenomenon in which the mind responds to a stimulus by perceiving a familiar pattern even though none exists. Visually, Pareidolia is responsible for most sightings of ghosts, aliens and other unexplained phenomena.

The human brain has evolved to be able to quickly identify human faces by recognising the pattern of the face before identifying the face itself. However, the faster the brain gets at identifying faces, the more inaccurate it gets. 

This leads the brain to mistakenly identifying face like shapes as faces. 

As well as sightings of ghosts, Pareidolia also plays a role in:

  • Mimetoliths: Rocks that have been weathered to look like animals, faces, dinosaur eggs and, in the case of the "face on mars", Aliens.

  • Rorschach Tests: Patients are asked to identify familiar shapes in inkblots in an attempt to gain insight into the patients mind.

  • Backmasking: Familiar words and phrases can sometimes be heard when a song is played backwards. This is an aural example of Pareidolia. 

A recent study showed that people are more like to experience pareidolia when scared or anxious suggesting that we are not scared because you saw a ghost, we see a ghost because we are scared.

Discussions

1) Is seeing or photographing a ghost enough evidence that ghosts exists? What would enough evidence be?

2) How can we tell the difference between a ghost and pareidolia? What evidence is there that ghosts exist?

3) Can you think of some other examples of pareidolia?

Activities

In groups, have the students compete to see how many human faces they can find hidden in the classroom in five minutes. They can not include real faces or pictures intended to look like faces. They also can not rearrange anything into a human face.

Once they have completed the task, have them share their favourites with the class. 

Have the students pick one of the examples and create a colourful, fictional backstory for what caused the face to appear in the classroom.

Is it a ghost?

Was it placed there by aliens?

It is a visitor from another dimension?

Which story is the most believable? Why?

After The Class

The best source for examples of paraidolia is a google image search. Invite the students to do their own research and share their favourites on social media.

Further Reading

Some People are More Likely To See Faces In Things by Moheb Costandi

Seeing Faces In Unusual Places by Kim Ann Zimmerman

 

Nicholas J. Johnson

2017

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