Why We See Faces in Everything

“Your brain is super attuned to see faces everywhere,” says Susan Wardle, a scientist who studies how and why people see illusory faces in objects, a phenomenon known as “face pareidolia.” M. Wollan, The New York Times  March 29, 2022

ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post with Answer Key

Photograph by George Etheredge, The New York Times

Excerpt: How to See Faces Everywhere By Malia Wollan, The New York Times  March 29, 2022

“Humans are hypersocial animals. We’re constantly looking for one another out in the world — to find love, avoid danger, connect — so much so that we often see a face where there isn’t one. ‘You only need this minimal information to see a face because it’s more adaptive to make a mistake and see a funny face in a cloud than to miss a real human face,’ says Wardle, who works at the Laboratory of Brain and Cognition at the National Institute of Mental Health… In one study, Wardle asked subjects to look at 256 photographs of illusory faces. ‘Bizarrely, a lot of our examples came from bell peppers cut in half,’ Wardle says… Unlike human faces though, illusory faces, even the scariest-looking ones, don’t pose any real or potential threat.”

ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post

NOTE: Lessons can also be used with native English speakers.

Level: Intermediate – Advanced

Language Skills: Reading, writing, and speaking. Vocabulary and grammar activities are included.

Time: Approximately 60 minutes. 

Materials: Student handout (from this lesson) and access to news article.


Objective: Students will read and discuss the article
with a focus on improving reading comprehension and improving oral skills. At the end of the lesson students will express their personal views on the topic through group work and writing. 

 Predictions: Using a Pre-reading Organizer

Directions: Examine the title of the post and of the actual article. Next examine  any photos. Write a paragraph describing what you think this article will discuss. A pre-reading organizer may be used.

Pre-reading chart by J. Swann

 

II. While Reading Activities

Word Inference

Directions: Try  to infer the meanings of the words in bold taken from the article. You use a dictionary, thesaurus, and Word Chart for assistance. 

  1. Our brains are super attuned to see faces everywhere.
  2. Susan Wardle is a scientist who studies how and why people see illusory faces in objects.
  3. As humans we want to find love, avoid danger and connect.
  4. You only need this minimal information to see a face.
  5. It’s more adaptive to make a mistake and see a funny face in a cloud than to miss a real human face.
  6. Wardle has colleagues who begin spotting faces in sandwiches.
  7. Growing up, she [Wardle] and her sister gave them their own moniker: “beezups.”
  8. Some saw faces in storm-drain covers.
  9. Wardle says “just stare out, not looking at anything in particular, and allow yourself to see patterns.”
  10. Bizarrely, a lot of our examples came from bell peppers cut in half.”

Grammar Focus: Word -Recognition

Directions: Students choose the correct word to complete the sentences taken from the article. They are to choose from the options presented.

I

  1. Wardle worry her human subjects would laugh.
  2. M.R.I.s require absolute stillness.
  3. In one study, Wardle asked subjects to look at 256 photographs of illusory faces

II

  1. If you’re not seeing them, try to give yourself the time and space to look.
  2. Just stared out, not looking at anything in particular.
  3. Humans are hypersocial animals.

 

III

  1. You only need this minimal information to sea a face.
  2. We’re constantly looking for one another out in the world.
  3. To see more illusory faces, spend time thinking about them.

 

Reading ComprehensionFill-ins

Directions: Place students in groups and after they have read the entire article, have them complete the following sentences taken from the article. They can use the words and terms from the list provided, or provide their own terms. They are to find the meanings of any new vocabulary.

Brain-imaging ___show that___faces ___up a part of the ___called the “fusiform face area” that is central to all ___recognition. Unlike___ faces though, illusory___, even the ___ones, don’t ___any real or potential threat.

WORD LIST: scariest-looking, faces, human, facial, brain, scans, illusory, light, pose,

III Post Reading

Discussion Questions for Comprehension /Writing

Directions: Have  students discuss the following questions/statements. Afterwards,  students share their thoughts as a class. To reinforce the ideas, students can write an essay on one of the topics mentioned.

  1. Have you ever seen faces in clouds?  If not clouds, have you seen faces in any inanimate objects? 
  2. Seeing faces in objects is known as what phenomenon?
  3. According to Ms. Wardle, what does it mean to be hypersocial?
  4. How do we see more illusory faces?
  5. What directions does Wardle give on how to see faces in objects?
  6. After reading this article, do you think that you’ll begin seeing faces in objects? Why ot why not?
  7. List three new ideas  that you’ve learned about the topic from the reading,  two things that you did not understand in the reading, and one thing you  would like to know that the article did not mention.  Share your responses with your class.

IV Extra Activity

The following photos are from the New York Times article: 

Faces, Faces Everywhere, by Benedict Carey. All photographs are by George Etheredge May 5, 2020

Directions: In groups view all 7 pictures and answer the following questions:

Which pictures are easiest to see a face?

Which pictures are more difficult to see a face?

Why do you think that some pictures are easier than others? 

Go outside and take pictures of your own and share them with the class. 

 

ANSWER KEY