The process of imagining a face in an inanimate object is called pareidolia. This is the tendency to see patterns in something where there is nothing there. We all see “false” faces in everyday objects. Many of us see them in clouds or in an object as mundane as an electrical plug socket. Scientists from a university in Australia conducted a study to investigate whether our brain processes these false faces in the same way it does with human faces. Their research suggests there are some similarities in how we recognise both human and false faces.

In the study, 17 volunteers looked at different false and human faces. They rated the strength of emotion they felt upon seeing each one. The researchers said the same neural processing was involved in deciding what was or wasn’t a real face. Researcher David Alais said: “We know these objects are not truly faces, yet the perception of a face lingers.” He said our brain sees two things at once, and that we focus more on the image of a face than the object. He added: “The first impression of a face does not give way to the second perception of an object.”