Motherhood May Bring On Interesting Quirk

Study finds that new moms see faces in inanimate objects more than others
By Gina Carey,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 23, 2023 3:00 PM CDT
Motherhood May Bring On Interesting Quirk
Study found that postpartum women were more likely to see faces in objects   (Getty / Prostock-Studio)

All those Instagram posts of wall sockets that look like faces might have a target audience, according to a study in Biology Letters. Researchers from Australia's University of Queensland and the University of the Sunshine Coast investigated whether the human tendency to perceive faces in inanimate objects, known as face pareidolia, changes throughout adulthood, reports the Guardian. Based on prior research, they particularly looked for connections among postpartum women and whether they might be more sensitive to this phenomenon due to their higher levels of oxytocin. While the cause is still up for debate, postpartum mothers crushed it, ranking highest in spotting faces.

The study involved 84 pregnant women, 79 who had recently given birth, and 216 women who were neither expecting nor recently had children. Participants were shown various images—including human faces and a mix of inanimate objects, some with patterns resembling human faces and others that did not—and were asked to rate how easily they could recognize faces within them. The results showed that all participants could easily recognize human faces directly, but struggled to see faces in objects lacking facial patterns. However, women who had recently given birth found it easier to perceive illusionary faces in the rest of the images compared to the other participants, per Live Science.

"Oxytocin is known for reducing stress, enhancing mood, and promoting maternal behaviors like lactation," says lead author Jessica Taubert in a news release, "so it could contribute to a heightened sensitivity in perceiving faces in objects." The hypothesis is that stronger pareidolia during early parenthood may facilitate social bonding with newborns. But despite the findings, the study was limited—it didn't directly measure oxytocin levels in participants, and other factors like anxiety or stress could potentially explain the results. It was also a one-time assessment and did not track changes in face pareidolia over time. (Test your own pareidolia with this giant "bear face" on Mars).

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