Research Output

Recovering faces from memory: the distracting influence of external facial features.

  Recognition memory for unfamiliar faces is facilitated when contextual cues (e.g. head pose, background environment, hair and clothing) are consistent between study and test. By contrast, inconsistencies in external features, especially hair, promote errors in unfamiliar face-matching tasks. For the construction of facial composites, as carried out by witnesses and victims of crime, the role of external features (hair, ears and neck) is less clear, although research does suggest their involvement. Here, over three experiments, we investigate the impact of external features for recovering facial memories using a modern, recognition-based composite system, EvoFIT. Participant-constructors inspected an unfamiliar target face and, one day later, repeatedly selected items from arrays of whole faces, with ‘breeding’, to ‘evolve’ a composite with EvoFIT; further participants (evaluators) named the resulting composites. In Experiment 1, the important internal-features (eyes, brows, nose and mouth) were constructed more identifiably when the visual presence of external features was decreased by Gaussian blur during construction: higher blur yielded more identifiable internal-features. In Experiment 2, increasing the visible extent of external features (to match the target’s) in the presented face-arrays also improved internal-features quality, although less so than when external features were masked throughout construction. Experiment 3 demonstrated that masking external-features promoted substantially more identifiable images than using the previous method of blurring external-features. Overall, the research indicates that external features are a distractive rather than a beneficial cue for face construction; the results also provide a much better method to construct composites, one that should dramatically increase identification of offenders.

  • Type:

    Article

  • Date:

    31 March 2012

  • Publication Status:

    Published

  • Publisher

    American Psychological Association

  • DOI:

    10.1037/a0027393

  • ISSN:

    1076-898X

  • Library of Congress:

    BF Psychology

  • Dewey Decimal Classification:

    158 Applied psychology

Citation

Frowd, C. D., Skelton, F. C., Atherton, C., Pitchford, M., Hepton, G., Holden, L., …Hancock, P. J. B. (2012). Recovering faces from memory: the distracting influence of external facial features. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied. 18, 224-238. doi:10.1037/a0027393. ISSN 1076-898X

Authors

Keywords

Recognition memory; facial composites; EvoFit; witness memory; victim recall;

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