: the tendency to perceive a specific, often meaningful image in a random or ambiguous visual patternMerriam-Webster Dictionary
The tendency to perceive an object incorrectly as something meaningful to the observer is pareidolia. This would be like seeing shapes in the clouds, a man in the Moon, hidden messages in musical recordings or like hearing something that isn’t there in an air conditioner or fan. At one time this was thought to be a symptom of psychosis but now is just considered a human tendency.
The Rorschach inkblot test uses pareidolia in an attempt to gain insight into a person’s mental state. It is hypothesized that religious people, or ones that believe in the supernatural are more prone to pareidolia. People on a higher alert for danger, neurotic, are more likely to spot something that isn’t there. Women are more likely to see faces that aren’t there because they seem to have a better ability to recognize emotions through deciphering facial expressions than men.
Karl Ludwig Kahlbaum (1828-1899) a German physiatrist that used the word Pareidolie in an 1866 paper, which was translated as pareidolia, to describe “…partial hallucination, perception of secondary images, or pareidolia.”