Pareidolia, Apophenia,Perception and the paranormal


Human beings are born with a hotwire to recognize human faces and therefore this can cause some problems.  Pareidolia is a misperception of an ambiguous stimulus as something known to the person.  Pareidolia is a psychological occurrence involving random and vague stimuli, often sounds or images, which are perceived as significant, but in fact the sounds or images are not significant.  Examples are faces/items/animals images seen in clouds and hearing hidden messages in recordings, usually records played backwards.  Pareidolia can also involve a smell that seems significant but is created by more than one source.

The most common examples of Pareidolia are images of Jesus and Mary who can be seen in ordinary items as well as clouds.  The Rorschach inkblot tests use pareidolia images by psychologists to help obtain information as to a person’s mental state.

The paranormal world tends to call pareidolia, matrixing.  Matrixing is the subconscious mental re-evaluation of direct phenomena that is observed.  Matrixing can include enlarging pictures that become distorted with faces and other images being seen.  A good example of this is faces in orbs. EVP is thought to be an auditory pareidolia and some people think that pareidolia is an explanation for people seeing UFO’s, Bigfoot, Loch Ness Monster etc.  Apparitions are based upon the five senses and can be experienced differently by other people with pareidolia.


Apophenia is the experience of connecting random/meaningless stimulus that is not connected.  On a paranormal investigation, an example would be a cold spot is felt, a disturbance in the EMF field with an EMF meter followed by a knock or bang. If two or three things happened on an investigation a believer might see the set of activity as enforcing beliefs (see moon chapter).   Psychologists would suggest it would be apophenia and not paranormal activity.

Some would claim that apophenia is an enforcement of confirmation/cognitive bias.  A person who believes in something and only looks for something that can confirm their beliefs and ignores other information that contradicts their belief system would not consider apophenia.  The investigator could also be having cognitive illusions (see perception chapter).

The same could be said about photos: if someone thinks, they saw something on an investigation and takes a photo immediately they will look at that photo trying to find what they saw and in some cases will find something similar.

Research has shown that apophenia and pareidolia has nothing to do with personal beliefs and are based on dopamine levels in the brain: high levels indicate a person is more like to experience pareidolia and apophenia.

Perception and the paranormal – Explaining the paranormal

Perception is the awareness and understanding of sensory information.  What one perceives is a result of interplays between past experiences, one’s culture and the interpretation of the perceived.  The main theory of perception could be summonsed as a relationship between “description” (in the brain) ↔ senses ↔ surrounding, all of which holds true to the linear concept of experience but there are other theories.  One object can give rise to multiple perceptions or an object may fail to give rise to any perception at all: if the perception has no grounding in a person’s experience, the person may literally not perceive it.

The processes of perception routinely alter what humans see. When people view something with a preconceived idea about it, they tend to take those preconceived ideas and see them whether or not they are there. This problem stems from the fact that humans are unable to understand new information without the inherent bias of their previous knowledge. The extent of a person’s knowledge creates their reality as much as the truth, because the human mind can only contemplate that which it has been exposed too.  When objects are viewed without understanding the mind will try to reach for something that it already recognizes in order to process what it is viewing. That which most closely relates to the unfamiliar from our past experiences makes up what we see when we look at things that we do not comprehend.

Visual perception is the ability to interpret information from visible light reaching the eye. The resulting perception is also known as eyesight, sight or vision. The various physiological components involved in vision are referred to collectively as the visual system.

Cognitive illusions are assumed to arise by interaction with assumptions about the world, leading to “unconscious inferences”.

Ambiguous illusions are pictures or objects that elicit a perceptual ‘switch’ between the alternative interpretations.

Distorting illusions are characterized by distortions of size, length, or curvature.

Objects that are paradoxical or impossible generate paradox illusions.

Fictional illusions are defined as the perception of objects that are genuinely not there to all but a single observer.

Auditory perception

Hearing (or audition) is one of the five senses. It is the ability to perceive sound by detecting vibrations via the ear organ.  Hearing range usually describes the range of frequencies that can be heard by an animal or human, though it can also refer to the range of levels. In humans, the audible range of frequencies is usually said to be 20Hz to 20,000Hz (20 kHz) but is varied between individuals, especially at the high frequency end, where a gradual decline with age is considered normal.  There is a difference in sensitivity of hearing between the sexes, with women typically having a greater sensitivity to higher frequencies than men.

An auditory illusion is an illusion of hearing, the aural equivalent of an optical illusion.  The listener hears either sounds that are not present in the stimulus, or “impossible” sounds. In short, audio illusions highlight areas where the human ear and brain, as organic, makeshift tools, differ from perfect audio receptors.

Speech perception refers to the processes by which humans are able to interpret and understand the sounds used in language, The process of perceiving speech begins at the level of the sound signal and the process of audition. (For a complete description of the process of audition see Hearing.) After processing the initial auditory signal, speech sounds are further processed to extract acoustic cues and phonetic information. This speech information can then be used for higher-level language processes, such as word recognition.

Therefore, each person has an interpretation (explanation, meaning of some object of attention) of what they are sensing and makes ideas and an understanding (including translation of what they are sensing) and may express ones’ own understanding of things.  All of the above suggests that we can fill in gaps with preconceived ideas and therefore it is suggested that what we sense could be biased by what we already know or do not know.  While out ghost hunting we are expecting to see ghosts or spirits and therefore our senses will perceive anything we sense as being a ghost or spirit or paranormal related, if our believe system believes in ghosts or spirits.

This could also explain why non-believers do not sense anything while they are out ghost hunting, as their belief systems do not contain the idea of spirits or ghosts.

The main perception argument would be cognitive illusions, ghost hunters making assumptions that what they are sensing is paranormal related, when it is not.  Another argument of auditory perception would be that ghost hunters are hearing things and assuming that what is being heard is paranormal related, when it is not.  Speech perception would explain why some people hear words spoken while on a ghost hunt, because the process matches words already stored and therefore could be an illusion.  In Summary ghost hunter’s senses and/or brains are causing illusions and therefore leading us to belief in something paranormal happening when it is not.

3 responses to “Pareidolia, Apophenia,Perception and the paranormal

  1. Pingback: Psychology, electronic magnetic fields and EMF meters. | Tracy Monger a paranormal investigator·

  2. Pingback: Writing down activity while on an investigation and Psychology and Psychology explaining the paranormal | Tracy Monger a paranormal investigator·

  3. Pingback: Orbs – thought we had seen the last of this subject! | Tracy Monger a paranormal investigator·

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