Newt: You listen to The Sound of Science on WNIJ. I am Newt with NIU Steam.

Becky: And I’m Becky. Today we answer the question why people tend to see human faces and random things and patterns in the world. Are our brains broken?

Newt: Of course not. It turns out that humans are generally quite good at pattern recognition, probably because during evolution it was a great trait to have to increase your chances of survival. Let’s say you go into the woods, find some delicious wild berries, and see a big paw print in the mud. The next moment a big bear attacks you and nearly kills you. It would probably surprise you the first time it happened.

Becky: Humans have developed a very good memory for recording events. The first time something happens, you can’t predict the outcome. However, with repetition, your brain can begin to piece together a series of common events, which helps us predict what will happen next. This way you can go into the woods, find delicious wild berries, see a large property in the mud, and then avoid being attacked by a bear in the woods.

Newt: So how does seeing human faces in the world around us tie into all of this? There’s a fancy, hard-to-pronounce word for seeing familiar or meaningful shapes and random patterns. This is called pareidolia.

Becky: Cheers.

Newt: Thank you.

Becky: Humans are common animals, which means we do best when we work together. Part of being social is identifying how the people around us are feeling and reacting accordingly. Some suggest that the ability to recognize a human face and subsequently identify the emotional subtext was a very valuable trait for early humans.

Newt: According to the concept of survival of the fittest. If a trait helps a creature survive and live in the environment, that creature is more likely to reproduce, thus moving the trait along the evolutionary chain. So early humans who could spot other people and work well with them probably did a great job of surviving. Now, all these years later, we’re still super good at finding what looks like a human face.

Becky: So really, our brains are the opposite of broken. Our brains are extremely good at surviving.

Newt: You listened to The Sound of Science on WNIJ, where you learn something new every day.

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