par·​ei·​do·​lia ˌper-ˌī-ˈdō-lē-ə How to pronounce pareidolia (audio)
: the tendency to perceive a specific, often meaningful image in a random or ambiguous visual pattern
The scientific explanation for some people is pareidolia, or the human ability to see shapes or make pictures out of randomness. Think of the Rorschach inkblot test.Pamela Ferdinand
compare apophenia

Example Sentences

Recent Examples on the Web Partly that's down to the design of the lights, which should set off your pareidolia, and partly down to what now passes for a relatively low hood height, with curved edges finding favor over sharp creases at the corners. Jonathan M. Gitlin, Ars Technica, 6 July 2022 To find out whether monkeys experience face pareidolia, the scientists studied five rhesus macaques in the lab. Elizabeth Preston, Discover Magazine, 25 Aug. 2017 Compared to healthy controls, patients with Alzheimer's disease did not experience any more pareidolia than controls. Neuroskeptic, Discover Magazine, 1 June 2012 The second experiment was similar, except both real faces and pareidolia images were randomly combined in the trials. Jennifer Ouellette, Wired, 14 July 2021 Because of its trademark kidney grille, BMW's cars always suffer from pareidolia. Jonathan M. Gitlin, Ars Technica, 7 Sep. 2017 This photo is just the latest in a long list of odd objects that have caused excited viewers to fall foul of the phenomenon of pareidolia. Fox News, 30 June 2017 See More

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'pareidolia.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

Word History


borrowed from German Pareidolie, from Greek par- para- entry 1 + eídōlon "image, reflection" + German -ie -ia entry 1 — more at idol

First Known Use

1962, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of pareidolia was in 1962

Dictionary Entries Near pareidolia

Cite this Entry

“Pareidolia.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 25 Mar. 2023.

Medical Definition


par·​ei·​do·​lia ˌper-ˌī-ˈdōl-ē-ə, -ˈdōl-yə How to pronounce pareidolia (audio)
: the tendency to perceive a specific, often meaningful, image in a random or ambiguous visual pattern
The human brain is optimized to recognize faces, which could also explain why we are so good at picking out meaningful shapes in random patterns. This phenomenon, pareidolia, could be responsible for a host of otherwise unexplained sightings, such as the face of the Virgin Mary on a toasted cheese sandwich.New Scientist
compare apophenia
Last Updated: - Updated example sentences
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