If there’s a word that is ubiquitous in the commentary of many of the images that I see of alleged Bigfoot or Sasquatch on the internet, it has to be the word pareidolia.
There’s a common response to alleged videos and photographs of Bigfoot or other visual anomalies that most of us have seen used when appropriate, during a knee-jerk response or when the commenter is purposely attempting to annoy the individual who posted the picture. The term I am referring to is “pareidolia.” In reference to the subject matter we’ll primarily discuss here; the term refers to seeing the face of a Bigfoot in an unfocused photo or video frame full of trees, leaves and / or any other seemingly normal, natural setting. First, let’s look at some of the accepted definitions of the word.
Wikipedia: “…a psychological phenomenon in which the mind responds to a stimulus, usually an image or a sound, by perceiving a familiar pattern where none exists.”
Merriam-Webster: “The tendency to perceive a specific, often meaningful image in a random or ambiguous visual pattern.”
Dictionary.com: “the imagined perception of a pattern or meaning where it does not actually exist, as in considering the moon to have human features.”
Many of us have seen social media commentary attached to photos or videos of alleged images that claim to show a Sasquatch. Phrases used can range from “good find” and “that’s definitely a Bigfoot” to “stumpsquatch,” “fake,” “give me a break” and in many instances the word “pareidolia” is distributed somewhere within. Such exchanges described above are commonplace daily on countless Facebook, YouTube and Reddit posts. For many instances, summoning the word “pareidolia” is but a linguistic weapon of bitter disdain unleashed by an internet troll to get whatever social media platform user’s blood boiling instigate an argument. But when used appropriately, the term refers to the human tendency to attach meaning or pick out an object in an image that is composed of seemingly random stimuli. Regrettably, many times there is no distinction between an appropriate use of the term and someone who feels the need to instigate an internet brawl.
Pareidolia Internet Etiquette “Quiz”
Notice how the word “quiz” is in parentheses. That’s because it is a biased and opinion-based assessment meant to be humorous as well as enlightening. Well, maybe just humorous to me. Don’t take it if you are easily offended. Or, if you enjoy being triggered please by all means continue.
Let’s take a real-world example of a situation where the term pareidolia shows up in within the online Paranormal / Cryptozoology / UFO communities and have our own little “choose your own adventure” shall we? Maybe we’ll learn a little about ourselves.
For the following scenario and questions, we’ll use an example of a photo that supposedly shows Bigfoot.
A Bigfoot researcher goes into the field and returns with hours of video of their expedition. The researcher uploads their video footage to YouTube or any number of social media platforms. Viewers start watching the footage online and begin to leave timestamps in the comments at points in the video where they attest to seeing shapes, faces or visual “confirmation” of a Sasquatch.
Soon after a single zoomed-in screen capture of said video frame of interest is shared by several viewers who believe they see the face of Bigfoot, and the area of interest and zoomed-in and pixelated focus of the image is digitally annotated with the designation chosen by millions of armchair researchers; the infamous red circle. Circled images are discussed and contested with some comments claiming this is definite evidence of a previously unrecognized relic hominid while others are on the fence and say there is not enough evidence to say one way or another.
However, your analysis of the images is that there is no creature in the photo, and that the combined effects of light and shadow on the surrounding vegetation in the area within the red circle is an optical illusion that appears to have a face-like structure or no discernible structure at all.
Your following action is to:
A) post the following comment: “Here we go again. Another blurry picture. This is why I hate this (website / channel / etc). All of you are delusional and need to take some sort of pill to cure you of your pareidolia. You need help. This gives everyone in the Bigfoot community a bad name, no wonder no one takes any of this seriously. Get a life, losers. Your opinions are bad and you should feel bad for having stated them.
B) post the following comment: “Pareidolia.” Then cease to comment any further.
C) add some ridiculous emoji or the dancing Bigfoot gif in the comments.
D) not post a comment and keep scrolling on.
E) post the following comment: “Looking at the image, I believe that the combined effects of light and shadow on the surrounding vegetation in the area within the red circle may be an optical illusion that appears to have a face-like ( or whatever-like) structure. Although I wasn’t there and I did not take this (photo / frame of video), it’s my opinion that this may be an example of paredoilia, but of course, I could be wrong.”
If you chose answer A, congratulations! You have proven yourself to be an insufferable asshole. Not only have you managed to simultaneously belittle and offend several people with your vile internet demeanor, you have further tarnished the online Bigfoot community with abrasive trolling without adding anything to the conversation. Your rude, seething tirade is evidence that you have a rancid, overwhelming bitterness within your soul that hungers for not only attention, but condemnation. If an actor were to read your comment during the casting of the classic film “Willy Wonka,” they would immediately be chosen to be the most unlikable and impudent child imaginable. As the last stroke of your well-worn keyboard is amplified by it being physically tapped with several times the force of those previous to it, you sit back with an impish grin to observe the backlash your comment will undoubtedly generate and bask in the negativity you have wrought like the foul creature you have presented yourself as. ALTHOUGH YOU MAY NOT BE WRONG and in reality you may be a fine, upstanding member of your local community, the tone and content of your opinion is less than inviting to debate to say the least, intentionally provocative and will most likely lead to name-calling and the suppression of civilized discussion as the conversation degenerates and the importance or lack thereof of the image is lost to the internet comment war that ensues. You’ve used the word pareidolia in the most despicable way you monster. People are the real monsters.
If you chose answer B, the authoritative, mic-dropping powerhouse comment you have invoked is comparable only to an incantation worthy of Hogwart’s School of Magic. Now everyone can cease discussion of the subject material because the almighty word has been spoken with commanding resonance. You have saved everyone time and energy by putting the matter to rest. Wrong. You have successfully used the word pareidolia in the laziest way possible. It’s a lazy attempt to inject a lazy opinion. You have added no value to your presence as a commenter and done little to discredit the presented evidence by dropping the p-bomb casually in an environment where it’s already been dropped by countless other lazy commenters. Way to be yourself. When you leave the discussion, your comments will go largely unnoticed save the occasional scoff. Other social media users will either agree with you and keep scrolling or glance at your comment and wonder in passing if you even know the meaning of the word or if you are just repeating it because you heard the cool kids saying it on the bus. Comments such as these are of no consequence to anyone. But hey, who’s got time to explain themselves to strangers on the internet? I mean really, you’ve got things to do. Those fail videos aren’t going to watch themselves!
If you chose answer C, welcome to the matrix. You are successfully fluent in the language our robot overlords want us to use in order to keep us docile little batteries. The dancing Bigfoot gif in the comments will never go away, and neither will the use of the emojis. Remember the saying “in the future we’ll have flying cars?” Well, now we have gifs and emojis. This has nothing to do with the appropriate use of the word pareidolia. Moving on.
If you chose answer D, no harm, no foul. Although you may assume I would say this is also a lazy option in considering the given example, that is not the case. There is nothing wrong with withholding your opinion if you choose to do so and moving along. There is really nothing positive about said non-action either. There’s just… nothing. The old adage “if you have nothing nice to say, don’t say anything at all” is somewhat appropriate in this case, as since you may feel as though you have no constructive opinion or information to add you’ve chosen not to participate in the conversation at all. It’s not necessarily apathetic indifference, it’s a valid choice. Perhaps it’s your way of avoiding conflict or you’ve assessed the rest of the comments and see there is nothing you can add that someone else hasn’t already added. You did nothing. Well done, you did not mis-use the word pareidolia.
If you chose answer E, give yourself a gold star, a pat on the back… or nothing since you are an adult as should have come to expect nothing for doing the right thing. Answer E (and remember this is all my opinion so it counts as much as anyone else’s) is the best way to use the word pareidolia without sounding holier-than thou, snarky or overbearing. You have delivered your opinion in a non-aggressive manner whilst maintaining your integrity. While others may disagree with you, the delivery of your trigger-free opinion is such that there is no question that you are open-minded enough to consider the presented subject, yet retain the wherewithal to question what is presented to you while at the same time maintaining and inviting civil discourse of the matter at hand.
Additional Information on Pareidolia
Editorial written by Jesse Durdel, founder and content curator, National Cryptid Society