Despite our fluency in reading human faces, sometimes we mistakenly perceive illusory faces in objects, a phenomenon known as face pareidolia. Although illusory faces share some neural mechanisms with real faces, it is unknown to what degree pareidolia engages higher-level social perception beyond the detection of a face. In a series of large-scale behavioral experiments (ntotal = 3,815 adults), we found that illusory faces in inanimate objects are readily perceived to have a specific emotional expression, age, and gender. Most strikingly, we observed a strong bias to perceive illusory faces as male rather than female. This male bias could not be explained by preexisting semantic or visual gender associations with the objects, or by visual features in the images. Rather, this robust bias in the perception of gender for illusory faces reveals a cognitive bias arising from a broadly tuned face evaluation system in which minimally viable face percepts are more likely to be perceived as male.
Friday, February 18, 2022
Illusory faces are more likely to be perceived as male than female
Interesting observations from Wardle et al.: