Date on Senior Honors Thesis


Document Type

Senior Honors Thesis

Degree Name



Psychological and Brain Sciences

Degree Program

College of Arts and Sciences

Author's Keywords

Face Perception; Infant; Pareidolia; Facial Processing; 7-9 months old


Faces are special to infants. Infants look longer at faces than objects, human faces than non-human faces, and upright faces compared to inverted faces. The objective of this study was to see if infants demonstrated signs of pareidolia. Pareidolia is the ability to see a face in a non-face object, such as a face in a cloud. Previous research has shown that adults see faces in everyday objects, but less is known about infants' perception of such images. In the present study, infants 7-9 months old (N = 47) were tested. Infants were shown eight images, which adults had ordered from most face-like to least face-like, over 16 trials. An upright and inverted version of each image was presented side by side to infants on each trial. Infants’ looking times to each side was recorded. It was reasoned that infants would show a reliable preference for the upright version of a stimulus if they perceived a face in that stimulus. It was found that infants showed an upright preference for three of the eight stimuli, two that were deemed most face-like (i.e., a color photo of a female face, and a black and white schematic face) and one grouped as moderately face-like (i.e., a black and white Mooney image that could be perceived as either a face or a man playing a saxophone). From these results, we conclude that infants can perceive a face, but only in images that are the most face-like. The results suggest that infants may experience some form of pareidolia but not to the same extent as adults do. Future studies should further investigate the development of pareidolia infants and children.

Lay Summary

Faces are special to infants. It is obvious to anyone who has interacted with infants that they develop a fascination with faces at an early age. The present study is one of the first, to our knowledge, to test infants' perception of faces in a wide range of face-like stimuli. Determining an appropriate method of study was a significant challenge. Infants cannot verbally communicate with us to tell us exactly what they are seeing in stimuli; therefore we must interpret their actions and make assumptions about what those actions mean. Our solution was to build on the evidence that infants prefer upright faces. The study was conducted with 47 full-term healthy infants aged 7 to 9 months. Each testing session consisted of 16 ten-second trials. On each trial, infants were shown an upright and inverted version of the same stimulus side by side on the monitor. Infants saw each of the eight pairs of stimuli twice, once with the upright version on the left and again with the upright image on the right. Stimulus order was randomized across the sixteen trials. Analyses directly tested the hypothesis that infants would show an upright preference for stimuli in which they perceived a face. Infants showed a statistically significant upright preference for three of the eight stimuli.