Psychology behind Apophenia: Fine Line Between Insight and Illusion

Psychology behind Apophenia: Fine Line Between Insight and Illusion

Ramesh used to invest a lot of money in the stock market and he was earning a lot of profit from it. Soon, this made him overconfident and consequently, he started making bold decisions. One such time, he studied the past pattern and thought a particular company’s share would earn him a lot of money. However, things didn’t go as planned. Ramesh had made a wrong choice. He had to bear a huge loss because he made a decision only based on the previous pattern of different shares without considering that every share is different and can lead to different results.  

This is an example of what Klaus Conrad, a German neurologist named APOPHENIA.  

Apophenia is the human tendency to find meaning in things that have no meaning or are completely unrelated to each other. To some extent, we all engage in some kind of apophenia, but when it becomes extreme it can lead to psychosis. Apophenia is also a symptom of disorders like schizophrenia.  


We all sometimes tend to find patterns in things around us; finding faces in clouds or hearing our name being called in the crowd when nobody calls it, these are the instances that occur daily in our life and are a natural human tendency. However, it is more complicated than it looks.  

  • Apophenia is related with serious mental health disorders like bipolar disorder or  schizophrenia. Psychoticism and apophenia are also connected. 
  • In mentally healthy people apophenia can be caused due to different reasons. It is  said that people with certain personality traits like openness to experience are more prone to this pattern seeking behavior.
  • Research also says that apophenia is an evolutionary tendency meaning it is a trait  that has helped humans to survive.  
  • We tend to prefer positive outcomes rather than negative which can lead to us finding patterns in things that do not exist.  
  • Apophenia is also often associated with gambler’s fallacy, where individual believes that certain result will come due to past experience.  

For example – when a person balling in cricket match thinks that wicket is due as in last 2 balls the batsman had hit consecutive sixes. This is misinterpretation as each ball is different and has no connection with the previous balls. 


  1. Pareidoila: This is visual type of apophenia where the person sees random visual stimuli which are not present. For example, you feel that a certain rock resembles the face of someone that you  know. 
  2. Clustering illusion: It is type of illusion where a person thinks that there is a connection between data points when there might be none. For example, a researcher studying about cause – effect relationship might find the connection between the data even if they are unrelated to each other.
  3. Confirmation bias: Confirmation bias is when your old beliefs get stronger due to information that confirms your thoughts. For example, if you believe that chubby people are warm and friendly, when you  meet someone that fits the criteria, it strengthens your previous beliefs.  
  4. Gambler’s fallacy: This occurs when the person thinks that previous results affect the future events even  when both are individual phenomenon. For example – while rolling the dice in the game of Ludo, you think that you will get a six  because previous two rolls gave you two sixes, even though each dice roll is  independent.  

Read More: Cognitive Biases in Everyday Life

Is it a disorder? 

Apophenia is not a disorder but it can be a symptom of various disorders like schizophrenia. Apophenia does help a person in thinking creatively, in finding things that are not seen commonly but extreme apophenia can lead to psychosis; where the person completely disconnects with the reality and doesn’t understand what is real and what is not. It is important to draw a line between healthy, creative thinking and disconnect from the reality.

Apophenia or Pareidolia 

Imagine walking on a crowded road and you keep looking back thinking that someone called your name. Now imagine you are making breakfast and you think that the toast looks like it has your friend’s face on it. This is what apophenia and pareidoila mean. Apophenia is when humans try to find patterns  in random unrelated things whereas pareidolia is a type of visual apophenia. There is a  difference between the two, pareidoila is when people falsely recognize visual patterns.  

Can Apophenia lead to schizophrenia? 

There is no research that indicates that apophenia can lead to schizophrenia but finding  pattern in unrelated things can be one of the symptoms of the disorder. Schizophrenia and apophenia do share a connection as apophenia can be one of the  symptoms of the schizophrenia and having mental health conditions like schizophrenia can  increase the risk of an individual to have apophenia.  


Engaging in mild pattern recognizing activities like enjoying finding objects in the clouds for a while is not very alarming, but if you find that it has become extreme and you are concerned about it do not hesitate to ask help from mental health professional. It is important to seek help when you spot early signs of apophenia as it is said to be the starting of psychosis, where person has difficulty in understanding the difference between  what reality is and what is not real.  

It is important to understand that not everything that is happening to you has a reason behind it, try to accept that certain things happen without any cause. For example, when your meeting does not go well it is not because of anything that you did earlier that day; it can be simply because it was not your day. Understanding that not everything is connected is important when dealing with apophenia.  

Apophenia can lead people to take risky decisions based on the patterns they saw in the things that do not really exist. It is also very important that before taking any big decisions in  your life you think thoroughly and do proper research instead of being completely dependent on these connections that you thought you saw in things. 

Try looking at things through an objective glass, look for evidence that supports your belief before taking any decision. Check and verify facts before believing on anything. In the end, the most important is asking for help from a mental health professional. Therapy  can help you cope with such challenges.  

Take Away

Anything in extreme causes an issue. Apophenia makes a person creative making him look  at things in a different way but when it crosses a line it can become a cause to psychosis.  Connecting dots gives us comfort but it is important to understand that we should not be  overly dependent on these patterns. Before believing anything or taking any decision we should do proper research and check for  facts rather than blindly taking decisions based on these patterns.  


1. What is Apophenia?  

Apophenia is human tendency of finding meaning in things that has no meaning or  are completely unrelated to each other. It is when you find connection between two things that are in no way related to each  other.  

2. Is Apophenia a Mental Disorder?  

No, Apophenia is not a disorder but it can be a symptom of various mental disorders like bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. Extreme Apophenia can also lead to  psychosis.  

3. What are different types of Apophenia?  

Types of Apophenia include pareidoila, clustering illusion, gambler’s fallacy and  confirmation bias. 

4. Can Apophenia lead to Schizophrenia?  

There is no proper evidence that states that apophenia can cause schizophrenia but  finding unrelated things meaningful can be one of the symptoms of the  schizophrenia.  

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