Assessment by touch.

Pareidolia is a type of illusion or misperception involving a vague or obscure stimulus which is perceived as clear and distinctive. Mostly it is used to describe a visual illusion rather than a tactile one.

Pareidolia is a fascinating richly neurological phenomenon, the product of well-known cognitive and sensory distortions. Many illusions are highly repeatable.

We are all talented in perceiving what we want to perceive and expect to perceive.

Our brain is very good in making up patterns and filling in gaps. It is also called ‘over-interpreted perception’.

Osteopaths palpate a lot. In each case, the alleged phenomenon may or may not be a real thing and this while the perception remains bugged by false positives.

Example: the cerebrospinal fluid exists. It is proven that it circulates. But it has never been proven that the palpation of the rhythm is reliable.

Example: Is the patient dead or can’t I find the artery?

Do not understand me wrong: osteopaths develop exceptionally extensive sensory experience and skills with soft tissues but just because perception is difficult doesn’t mean that we can’t be good at it, even extremely good. The reality of palpatory pareidolia does not mean that osteopaths cannot still accomplish sensory marvels.

But even then, this doesn’t make us immune to error and we can’t even know what the meaning is of our subtle palpation.

The measure of a good osteopath is not immunity to pareidolia, but the humility required to doubt his/her own perceptions.

People informed of the biases and pitfalls of their unconscious brains are better at using their conscious minds to overrule them (Leonard Mlodinow in How your unconscious mind rules your behaviour, 2012).

Luc Peeters, MSc.Ost.