Musculoskeletal pareidolia in medical education

Clin Teach. 2014 Jul;11(4):251-3. doi: 10.1111/tct.12143.


Background: Medical educators use a variety of strategies to help medical students and resident doctors understand and remember complex topics.

Methods: One teaching tool is matching up radiographic appearances with unrelated, common, non-medical images, in order to help students easily recognise clinical patterns.

Discussion: However, even among medical educators who use this approach, many are not aware of the neuropsychiatric phenomenon they are using, known as pareidolia. We will describe pareidolia (a form of patternicity) and give two examples of its use in the clinical teaching of musculoskeletal imaging abnormalities: the winking owl and the Scottie dog.

MeSH terms

  • Curriculum
  • Diagnostic Imaging / methods*
  • Education, Medical / methods*
  • Humans
  • Lumbar Vertebrae / abnormalities*
  • Lumbar Vertebrae / diagnostic imaging*
  • Musculoskeletal Abnormalities / diagnostic imaging*
  • Neuropsychology / methods
  • Radiography