Scientists Know Why People See Faces in Toast

Some brains more likely to see face-like patterns than others

People see mysterious faces in their food all the time. Not too long ago a chicken nugget shaped like George Washington’s head sold for more than $8,000, and the Virgin Mary appeared on a grilled cheese sandwich that later sold for $28,000. Jesus is spotted on toast so often that now there’s a special toaster designed to put him there, and a group of Finnish researchers recently decided they were going to figure out why this keeps happening and why some people are predisposed towards spotting faces in their breakfasts.

“An ability to see faces is more common in some people than others due to differences in how our brains process information,” said Tapani Riekki, one of the researchers.

According to, the study compared a group of test subjects based on whether they self-identified as religious, non-religious, believers in the paranormal, and skeptics. The test subjects viewed photos on a screen and were given four seconds to spot a face-like pattern in each picture. Ninety-eight pictures had face patterns, and 87 did not.

The researchers observed that the religious test subjects and believers in the paranormal were significantly better at spotting the faces in the images, but they also perceived more face-like patterns in the test images that the scientists hadn’t actually put there.

According to Riekki, the main difference between the groups was how much information they had to see before deeming a pattern to be “face-like.” A couple sesame seeds that resemble eyes can be enough to trigger the idea of a face in some people. There’s still no word on what makes a person go from perceiving a random face shape to thinking it’s someone specific like Elvis or the Virgin Mary, though, so we’re probably going to be entertained by celebrity sightings in food for the foreseeable future.


“It’s normal, and actually fun, that our mind plays tricks and triggers the face perception when no actual faces are present,” Riekki said. The woman who got $28,000 for her old grilled cheese sandwich certainly laughed all the way to the bank.