par·​ei·​do·​lia | \ ˌper-ˌī-ˈdō-lē-ə How to pronounce pareidolia (audio) , -ˈdōl-yə\

Definition of pareidolia

: 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

Examples of pareidolia in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web

Because of its trademark kidney grille, BMW's cars always suffer from pareidolia. Jonathan M. Gitlin, Ars Technica, "BMW X7 gets leaked early: Check out those nostrils," 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, "Mars Opportunity rover has image of unidentified metallic object, puts internet in a frenzy," 30 June 2017

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.

First Known Use of pareidolia

1962, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for pareidolia

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

Keep scrolling for more

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for pareidolia


par·​ei·​do·​lia | \ ˌper-ˌī-ˈdōl-ē-ə, -ˈdōl-yə How to pronounce pareidolia (audio) \

Medical Definition of pareidolia

: 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, 24 Dec. 2011 — compare apophenia

Comments on pareidolia

What made you want to look up pareidolia? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


a topic to which one constantly reverts

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

Where in the World? A Quiz

  • peter bruegel tower of babel painting
  • What language does pajama come from?
Spell It

Can you spell these 10 commonly misspelled words?

Syn City

Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!