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University of Stirling



The impact of external facial features on the construction of facial composites (Forthcoming/Available Online)

Brown C, Portch E, Skelton FC, Fodarella C, Kuivaniemi-Smith H, Herold K, Hancock PJB & Frowd CD (2018) The impact of external facial features on the construction of facial composites (Forthcoming/Available Online). Ergonomics.

Witnesses may construct a composite face of a perpetrator using a computerised interface. Police practitioners guide witnesses through this unusual process, the goal being to produce an identifiable image. However, any changes a perpetrator makes to their external facial-features may interfere with this process. In Experiment 1, participants constructed a composite using a holistic interface one day after target encoding. Target faces were unaltered, or had altered external-features: (i) changed hair, (ii) external-features removed or (iii) naturally-concealed external-features (hair, ears, face-shape occluded by a hooded top). These manipulations produced composites with more error-prone internal-features: participants’ familiar with a target’s unaltered appearance less often provided a correct name. Experiment 2 applied external-feature alterations to composites of unaltered targets; although whole-face composites contained less error-prone internal-features, identification was impaired. Experiment 3 replicated negative effects of changing target hair on construction and tested a practical solution: selectively concealing hair and eyes improved identification.

facial composite; altered external-features, hair; holistic face processing; witness


Author(s)Brown, Charity; Portch, Emma; Skelton, Faye C; Fodarella, Cristina; Kuivaniemi-Smith, Heidi; Herold, Kate; Hancock, Peter J B; Frowd, Charlie D
Publication date31/12/2018
Publication date online07/12/2018
Date accepted by journal01/12/2018
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