Researchers find 'seeing Jesus in toast' phenomenon perfectly normal

May 6, 2014, University of Toronto
Researchers find 'seeing Jesus in toast' phenomenon perfectly normal

People who claim to see "Jesus in toast" may no longer be mocked in the future thanks to a new study by researchers at the University of Toronto and partner institutions in China.

Researchers have found that the of "face pareidolia"—where onlookers report seeing images of Jesus, Virgin Mary, or Elvis in objects such as toasts, shrouds, and clouds—is normal and based on physical causes.

"Most people think you have to be mentally abnormal to see these types of images, so individuals reporting this phenomenon are often ridiculed", says lead researcher Prof. Kang Lee of the University of Toronto's Eric Jackman Institute of Child Study. "But our findings suggest that it's common for people to see non-existent features because are uniquely wired to recognize faces, so that even when there's only a slight suggestion of facial features the automatically interprets it as a face," said Lee.

Although this phenomenon has been known for centuries, little is understood about the underlying neural mechanisms that cause it. In the first study of its kind, researchers studied brain scans and behavioural responses to individuals seeing faces and letters in different patterns. They discovered face paredilia isn't due to a brain anomaly or imagination but is caused by the combined work of the frontal cortex which helps generate expectations and sends signals to the posterior visual to enhance the interpretation stimuli from the outside world.

Researchers also found that people can be led to see different images—such as faces or words or letters—depending on what they expect to see, which in turn activates specific parts of the brain that process such images. Seeing "Jesus in toast" reflects our brain's normal functioning and the active role that the plays in visual perception. Instead of the phrase "seeing is believing" the results suggest that "believing is seeing."

The findings were published in the journal Cortex.

Explore further: How the brain pays attention (w/ video)

More information: Paper: … ii/S0010945214000288

Related Stories

How the brain pays attention (w/ video)

April 10, 2014
Picking out a face in the crowd is a complicated task: Your brain has to retrieve the memory of the face you're seeking, then hold it in place while scanning the crowd, paying special attention to finding a match.

Mapping objects in the brain

December 20, 2013
A brain region that responds to a particular category of objects is found to consist of small clusters of neurons encoding visual features of these objects.

Perceptual motion bias helps humans interpret vague motion information

April 11, 2014
When viewing a scene with low contrast, such as in cloudy or low-light situations, humans tend to perceive objects to be moving slower or flickering faster than in reality. This less-than-faithful interpretation of the sensory ...

What makes us human? Unique brain area linked to higher cognitive powers

January 28, 2014
Oxford University researchers have identified an area of the human brain that appears unlike anything in the brains of some of our closest relatives.

'Seeing' faces through touch

September 4, 2013
Our sense of touch can contribute to our ability to perceive faces, according to new research published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

Recommended for you

Research reveals atomic-level changes in ALS-linked protein

January 18, 2018
For the first time, researchers have described atom-by-atom changes in a family of proteins linked to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a group of brain disorders known as frontotemporal dementia and degenerative diseases ...

Fragile X finding shows normal neurons that interact poorly

January 18, 2018
Neurons in mice afflicted with the genetic defect that causes Fragile X syndrome (FXS) appear similar to those in healthy mice, but these neurons fail to interact normally, resulting in the long-known cognitive impairments, ...

How your brain remembers what you had for dinner last night

January 17, 2018
Confirming earlier computational models, researchers at University of California San Diego and UC San Diego School of Medicine, with colleagues in Arizona and Louisiana, report that episodic memories are encoded in the hippocampus ...

Recording a thought's fleeting trip through the brain

January 17, 2018
University of California, Berkeley neuroscientists have tracked the progress of a thought through the brain, showing clearly how the prefrontal cortex at the front of the brain coordinates activity to help us act in response ...

Midbrain 'start neurons' control whether we walk or run

January 17, 2018
Locomotion comprises the most fundamental movements we perform. It is a complex sequence from initiating the first step, to stopping when we reach our goal. At the same time, locomotion is executed at different speeds to ...

Neuroscientists suggest a model for how we gain volitional control of what we hold in our minds

January 16, 2018
Working memory is a sort of "mental sketchpad" that allows you to accomplish everyday tasks such as calling in your hungry family's takeout order and finding the bathroom you were just told "will be the third door on the ...


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

5 / 5 (2) May 06, 2014
The article author didn't think this through. No one is expecting widespread pareidolia to be abnormal. Reversely, the more it is known as normal, the more mocking will append to people claiming to see preferentially sectarian icons where others do not, and/or claim it is external unlikely 'miracles'.
1 / 5 (5) May 06, 2014
A fact of the matter is, until and unless the "researchers" can prove there was no intelligent hand behind the images, claims are "pareidolia" are just so much doggerel.
And, an important point to remember. There is no such compendium on images other than sacred ones formed "randomly". No Mickey Mouses, Mr. Spocks, Popeyes, Cap'n Crunches. Given the number of God haters and atheists, if pareidolia was so legitimate an "explanation", there should be dozens if not hundreds of pictures coming in every month from spills, toast, splashes, holes in walls, arrangements of stones.
It should be mentioned that Hindus, Buddhists do not see such things so often. But, then, they do not necessarily see the Almighty as interacting so much with humans. Can it be that accepting God interacting with your life will invite Him to interact?
1 / 5 (1) May 07, 2014
Pareidolia is an offshoot from apophenia, a problem solving ability inherent in sentient life forms wherein we recognize patterns in hitherto random data, AKA strange places. There is nothing strange in recognizing patterns, only the way we express our beliefs in what we see. Now, where do I get a Jesus Toaster?
Lex Talonis
5 / 5 (1) May 10, 2014
I saw Jesus gaily dancing on the surface of the sun with his 12 boy friends, at the Celestial Balls Dance.

not rated yet May 10, 2014
What a load of crap!

"Normal"? Who the hell sees Jesus in a piece of bread?

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.