Nature on our Doorsteps: Spooky faces in nature
Spot the spooky face with a raised 'claw' in this tree on the path to the Hell Fire Club...

Nature on our Doorsteps: Spooky faces in nature

Nature on our Doorsteps is a weekly column written by Rosaleen Dwyer, Heritage Officer with South Dublin County Council. 

THE human brain continuously interprets what our eyes see.

In trying to understand what it is looking at, our brain attempts to link the image to something that we might have seen before.

Sometimes, this results in us ‘seeing’ things that are not really there.

Examples of this are when we appear to see faces, patterns, or the shapes of animals or inanimate objects in clouds, in shadows, or in the natural world around us.

This tendency is called pareidolia.

While it can be entertaining to interpret plug sockets, car headlights, or the ‘man in the moon’ as funny faces, humans appear to be hard-wired to see such things.

‘Gremlin faces’ appear in these clusters of Turkish hazelnuts after they are nibbled by squirrels

In the past, when we hunted and lived mainly outdoors, our brains needed to make quick decisions on whether something was safe or dangerous.

Recognising faces, in particular, was a very important skill.

Other humans could either be helpful to us or they could present a threat, so we needed to be ready to react quickly.

This constant focus on recognising human faces may have resulted in our brains ‘seeing’ faces all around us, even in tree bark, in the shape of a rock, or in the growth form of a tree.

Deliberately looking for spooky faces in nature can also be a bit of fun though, especially at Halloween.


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