Media Releases

U of T professor wins Ig Nobel Prize for ‘Jesus in Toast’ study at Harvard University

September 18, 2014

TORONTO, ON — Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to pro­fes­sor Kang Lee has been award­ed a 2014 Ig Nobel Prize for a study that found that the phe­nom­e­non of “face pareidolia”–where onlook­ers report see­ing images of Jesus, Vir­gin Mary, or Elvis in objects such as toast, shrouds, and clouds–is nor­mal and based on phys­i­cal caus­es.

Lee was the lead author of the study “See­ing Jesus in toast: Neur­al and behav­ioral cor­re­lates of face parei­do­lia”, pub­lished in the jour­nal Cor­tex. The research was con­duct­ed with part­ner insti­tu­tions in Chi­na.

“Despite the humor­ous nature of this award, you nev­er know what this research could lead to in the future,” says Lee. “For exam­ple, it could be used to make warn­ing signs eas­i­er to under­stand or to test babies’ brain func­tion­ing.”

The Ig Nobel Prizes—produced by the sci­ence humor mag­a­zine “Annals of Improb­a­ble Research”— hon­our achieve­ments that first make peo­ple laugh, and then make them think. They were award­ed at Har­vard Uni­ver­si­ty’s his­toric Sanders The­atre tonight before 1100 spec­ta­tors. The Ig Nobel Prize Cer­e­mo­ny has been held annu­al­ly since 1991.

The Ig Nobel Prizes were phys­i­cal­ly hand­ed to the win­ners by five gen­uine Nobel lau­re­ates: Mar­tin Chal­fie  (chem­istry, 2008), Car­ol Grei­der (phys­i­ol­o­gy or med­i­cine, 2009) Dud­ley Her­schbach (chem­istry, 1986), Eric Maskin (eco­nom­ics, 2007), Rich Roberts (phys­i­ol­o­gy or med­i­cine, 1993), and Frank Wilczek (physics, 2004). Pro­fes­sor Her­schbach was also giv­en away in the Win-a-Date-With-a-Nobel-Lau­re­ate Con­test.

Each new win­ner was per­mit­ted a max­i­mum of 60 sec­onds to deliv­er an accep­tance speech. The time lim­it was enforced by a cute-but-implaca­ble eight-year-old girl.

In his accep­tance speech, Lee explained that the ‘Jesus in Toast’ research showed that human brains are com­plete­ly nor­mal if they see nonex­is­tent faces in every­day objects, and not being able to do so may indi­cate the brain lacks the ingre­di­ents for a vivid imag­i­na­tion. “And I have some good news for those with­out a good imag­i­na­tion,” joked Lee. “You can buy a Jesus toast­er on eBay for just $49.99.”

Marc Abra­hams, mas­ter of cer­e­monies, and edi­tor of the “Annals of Improb­a­ble Research”, closed the cer­e­mo­ny with his tra­di­tion­al sign-off, “If you did­n’t win an Ig Nobel Prize tonight — and espe­cial­ly if you did — bet­ter luck next year.”

Pho­tos of Prof. Kang Lee:


Relat­ed links:

For more infor­ma­tion, con­tact: 

Kang Lee Ph.D.
Uni­ver­si­ty Dis­tin­guished Pro­fes­sor
Dr. Eric Jack­man Insti­tute of Child Study, Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to
Cell: 647–606-6849
Lan­guages spo­ken: Eng­lish, Man­darin

Dominic Ali
Media Rela­tions
Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to
Tel: 416–978-6974
Cell: 647–378-6425