Researchers have found that the phenomenon of “face pareidolia” also known as the “Jesus in toast” phenomenon – where onlookers report seeing images of Jesus, Virgin Mary, or Elvis in objects such as toasts, shrouds, and clouds — is normal and based on physical causes.
The new findings suggest that it’s common for people to see non-existent features because human brains are uniquely wired to recognize faces, so that even when there’s only a slight suggestion of facial features the brain automatically interprets it as a face.
What is the mysterious “Jesus in toast” phenomenon?
Although this phenomenon has been known for centuries, little is understood about the underlying neural mechanisms that cause it. This new study links face pareidolia to the combined work of the frontal cortex which helps generate expectations and sends signals to the posterior visual cortex to enhance the interpretation stimuli from the outside world. It is not a brain anomaly or imagination anymore!
In other words, seeing “Jesus in toast” reflects our brain’s normal functioning and the active role that the frontal cortex plays in visual perception. Instead of the phrase “seeing is believing” the results suggest that “believing is seeing.”
The findings were published in the journal Cortex.