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'Seeing Jesus In Toast' Is Normal, Study Finds

Update Date: May 07, 2014 09:02 AM EDT

There isn't anything abnormal about people who claim to see "Jesus in toast". 

According to a new study, the phenomenon of 'face pareidolia' - in which onlookers report seeing images of Jesus, Virgin Mary or Elvis in objects like 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," said lead researcher Prof. Kang Lee of the University of Toronto's Eric Jackman Institute of Child Study, in a press release. "But our findings suggest that it's common for people to see non-existent features because human brains are uniquely wired to recognize faces, so that even when there's only a slight suggestion of facial features the brain automatically interprets it as a face."

The phenomenon has been known for centuries but inadequate facts are available that explain the underlying mechanisms. The study is first of its kind in which researchers study brain scans and behavioral responses to individuals seeing faces and letters in different patterns.

Researchers discovered that face paredilia isn't caused due to brain anomaly or imagination but by the combined work of the frontal cortex which helps generate expectations and sends signal to the posterior visual cortex to enhance the interpretation stimuli from the outside word, according to the press release. 

The study also suggested that people can be led to see different images. For example, faces or words or letters, which depends on what they expect to see, which in turn activated specific parts of the brain that process such images. 

The results suggest 'believing is seeing' instead 'seeing is believing.' 

The findings of the study has been published in the journal Cortex

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