Photography lesson

Lesson of the day: “How to see faces everywhere”

This lesson is part of our Accessible activities feature, which aims to accommodate a wider variety of learners on our site and The Times in general. Learn more and tell us what you think here.


Featured article: “How to see faces everywhereby Malia Wollan

Have you ever seen the image of a face where there was none? Maybe in a fire hydrant or a pile of rocks or a house? Believe it or not, it’s a natural thing that all humans do.

In this lesson you will learn how and why people tend to see faces in everyday objects. Then we invite you to experiment and try to find faces in your environment. What can we learn about human nature from this exercise?

Take a close look at the images below taken by George Etheredge, a New York Times photographer. What do they all have in common?

What you just experienced is called “facial pareidolia”. Watch “Why do we see faces in objects?”, a short Science Channel video, to learn more about this concept.

As you watch, answer these two questions:

Here are 10 words you will read in the featured article that you may not know. How many do you know?

1. Attune (Note: you’ll see this word in the article as “superattuned,” which means to be very attuned.)
2. illusory
3. phenomenon
4. adaptive
5. nickname
6. Aimless
7. gender
8. inanimate
9. face
10. Mainly

Find out what they mean and practice using them with this list from Vocabulary.com.

Read the article here onlineWhere in this PDF with related vocabulary words. Then answer the following questions:

1. The author writes that humans are “hypersocial” animals. Break this word down into its two parts: “hyper” and “social”. What do you think that means? What is an example from the article that shows humans are “hypersocial”?

2. Why are humans wired to see faces, according to Susan Wardle, a scientist who studies face pareidolia?

3. According to Wardle, what’s the secret to seeing more “illusory faces” – or images of faces, even where there are none – in your everyday life?

4. The author writes, “Don’t be surprised if you find yourself viewing these faces of inanimate objects as predominantly male. In other words, people tend to think that the illusory faces they see are masculine rather than feminine. Why do you think that might be?

5. What part of the brain activates when we see faces in objects? Why, at first, might our brain consider these faces as threats?

The author concludes by encouraging readers to “be delighted” by the faces that might be seen in sandwiches, storm sewer covers, buildings and more.

So give it a try: get outside, look around and see how many pictures of faces you can find in everyday objects.

Remember Wardle’s advice: “Just look out, not looking at anything in particular, and allow yourself to see patterns.”

You could even take a camera and photograph the faces you see. Put them together in a slideshow or video, like the one you watched in the warm-up activity, and share it with your classmates.

Next, reflect on the mission with these questions:

  • Was it easy for you to spot faces in objects?

  • Did Wardle’s advice work for you? What helped you see faces, even where there might not have been?

  • Did you, as the author suggested, find this exercise enjoyable? Why do you think that is? What did this mission reveal to you about human nature?

  • What other questions do you have about facial pareidolia?


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