Strange-face Illusions During Interpersonal-Gazing and Personality Differences of Spirituality

Explore (NY). Nov-Dec 2017;13(6):379-385. doi: 10.1016/j.explore.2017.04.019. Epub 2017 Sep 1.


Strange-face illusions are produced when two individuals gaze at each other in the eyes in low illumination for more than a few minutes. Usually, the members of the dyad perceive numinous apparitions, like the other's face deformations and perception of a stranger or a monster in place of the other, and feel a short lasting dissociation. In the present experiment, the influence of the spirituality personality trait on strength and number of strange-face illusions was investigated. Thirty participants were preliminarily tested for superstition (Paranormal Belief Scale, PBS) and spirituality (Spiritual Transcendence Scale, STS); then, they were randomly assigned to 15 dyads. Dyads performed the intersubjective gazing task for 10 minutes and, finally, strange-face illusions (measured through the Strange-Face Questionnaire, SFQ) were evaluated. The first finding was that SFQ was independent of PBS; hence, strange-face illusions during intersubjective gazing are authentically perceptual, hallucination-like phenomena, and not due to superstition. The second finding was that SFQ depended on the spiritual-universality scale of STS (a belief in the unitive nature of life; e.g., "there is a higher plane of consciousness or spirituality that binds all people") and the two variables were negatively correlated. Thus, strange-face illusions, in particular monstrous apparitions, could potentially disrupt binding among human beings. Strange-face illusions can be considered as 'projections' of the subject's unconscious into the other's face. In conclusion, intersubjective gazing at low illumination can be a tool for conscious integration of unconscious 'shadows of the Self' in order to reach completeness of the Self.

Keywords: intersubjectivity; numinosity; projection; self; self-other boundary; spirituality; strange-face illusion.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Face*
  • Female
  • Hallucinations
  • Humans
  • Illusions*
  • Lighting*
  • Male
  • Mind-Body Relations, Metaphysical*
  • Personality*
  • Photic Stimulation*
  • Spirituality*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Unconscious, Psychology
  • Young Adult