Word of the day: Pareidolia

  Calvin Fisher

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 26 Oct, 2018



Pareidolia in the car industry

Pareidolia - 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.

Why are we talking about psychological phenomenons on a car website on a Friday afternoon, you might be thinking? Well, because it’s been on my mind.

Many years ago I had the good luck of attending the international reveal of the Jaguar F-Type in Paris. As a bunch of uncouth journalists, we immediately rattled off a list of cars we thought it resembled, I went with the Ferrari California but at least one person mentioned the Nissan 370Z.

I don’t see it.

But I did also see a bit of Maserati coupe in its lines. None other than Sir Ian McCallum, otherwise known as ‘He Who Designed The Jaguar’, overheard this malarkey and instead of ejecting us from his event as I’d no doubt have done if the roles were reversed, humoured us.

“It’s actually quite a common thing, our eyes look for similarities in things that have come before,” and indeed, that’s exactly the game they were playing now. I say this now because well, that’s a mild form of Pareidolia isn’t it? But also because that’s the new normal.

The world of car design is so over-saturated that it’s hard not to see parity between a new Mercedes-Benz hatchback and a seven year old Kia. You know precisely the cars I speak of. Even the Hyundai i30, you’d be blind not to notice how similar its bum is to that of a previous generation BMW 1 Series. Wait, i30, 135i – even their badges say similar things.

Now, let’s not confuse this with time-bound rivalry which I’ll elaborate on just now – nor the need to share components and platforms to the point where we arrive at philosophical musings such as “is my Navara a Mercedes, is my Mercedes a Nissan?” and so on. It’s an age old game of course, the Pontiac Trans Am and Chevrolet Camaro being an older example.

Indeed, with all forms of badge engineering thrust aside, let’s get back to design parity through rivalry. That inkling that the BMW 3 Series and Mercedes-Benz C-Class are beginning to look too similar, that all hatchbacks start to resemble each other because a successful formula is dictated by the masses. That isn’t Pareidolia – that’s survival of the least offensive.

Of course this formula isn’t limited to motoring, look at how all smartphones are now tiny, shiny monoliths, 99% glass and 1% the rest. Cinema too – there’s a reason why Armageddon and Deep Impact came out at the same time, as did Volcano and Dante’s Peak. Or why after the success of A Quiet Place, there’s now a movie called Bird Box. (Look it up). And why Dwayne Johnson wears camo and/or flies a helicopter in his last four movies.

If familiarity breeds contempt, then similarity breeds success. Whether it’s real, simulated or insinuated.


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26 Oct, 2018
Word of the day: Pareidolia
Pareidolia - 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.