Can't unsee: Western Canadians find Trump's image in highway signs
There's a psychological reason people are seeing the president in places he shouldn't be
Some travellers along western Canada's Yellowhead Highway have noticed the route's logo bears a striking resemblance to U.S. President Donald Trump — and there's a good psychological reason behind it, according to experts.
"It's freaky how much it really looks like him," said Winnipeg singer-songwriter Scott Nolan, who pointed out the similarities on social media.
Can you believe that Donald Trump? He's insisted we put him on all of our Canadian highway markers- Singer-songwriter Scott Nolan
The logo depicts a yellow silhouette of a man's head, with a distinctive tuft of hair on top.
Nolan was on tour with a friend when he noticed the resemblance.
"We're used to kind of messing with each other and I said to him, 'God, can you believe that Donald Trump? He's insisted we put him on all of our Canadian highway markers,' and my friend had a fit," Nolan recalled.
"It was hysterical."
Pleased with his prank, Nolan started telling the story during performances.
Soon he heard from audience members who also saw the similarity.
"I had people write me from all over rural Saskatchewan and Manitoba going, 'Oh my God!' " he laughed. "Once you kind of put it out there, people go, 'Oh my God, that really is it.
"I won't ever be able to unsee it."
He isn't alone. In a Facebook group for sharing highway conditions, users have joked about the similarities.
"I will never be able to drive along this highway without feeling like I'm being watched," wrote one member.
What's happening is a textbook example of "face pareidolia," according to University of Toronto professor and neuroscience researcher Kang Lee.
"[Face] pareidolia is a phenomenon whereby we see faces in everyday objects ... like the man in the moon," he said.
"Our brains are searching for images or meaning ... so the brain misinterprets some noises in our visual cortex and we think we have seen something that actually does not exist."
Lee said this is why we're able to recognize illustrations or TV images as human rather than just light and colour.
He also said we're more predisposed to seeing well-known figures, such as the hyper-newsworthy president of the United States.
U.S. psychology professor Dr. Thomas Topino said seeing Trump in the logo was similar to optical illusions where people can interpret two distinct images from one illustration.
"If one makes that connection, then you've established this link between this set of sensory cues and Donald Trump. The next time that you see this, it's going to be pretty inevitable that the Donald Trump interpretation is going to be activated," he said.
"Really, we can't unsee it."
The logo is actually a depiction of Pierre Bostonais, a 19th century Iroquois-Métis trader who gained the nickname "Tête Jaune," or "Yellowhead," because of his distinctive blond hair — not entirely unlike Trump, whose coifs are a key part of his image.
"It's a bizarre connection, but if it helps raise the profile of the highway ... that's great," laughed John Wojcicki of the TransCanada Yellowhead Highway Association, which promotes travel along the route.
Wojcicki said he's received numerous messages asking about the resemblance of the logo to Trump, but given his knowledge of Bostonais, he's had a hard time seeing it himself.
"I suppose under the right light with the right angle, there could be a resemblance," he said. "Any similarities to any particular politician is coincidental."