The relative importance of external and internal features of facial composites



Frowd CD, Bruce V, McIntyre AH & Hancock PJB (2007) The relative importance of external and internal features of facial composites. British Journal of Psychology, 98 (1), pp. 61-77.

Three experiments are reported that compare the quality of external with internal regions within a set of facial composites using two matching-type tasks. Composites are constructed with the aim of triggering recognition from people familiar with the targets, and past research suggests internal face features dominate representations of familiar faces in memory. However the experiments reported here show that the internal regions of composites are very poorly matched against the faces they purport to represent, while external feature regions alone were matched almost as well as complete composites. In Experiments 1 and 2 the composites used were constructed by participant-witnesses who were unfamiliar with the targets and therefore were predicted to demonstrate a bias towards the external parts of a face. In Experiment 3 we compared witnesses who were familiar or unfamiliar with the target items, but for both groups the external features were much better reproduced in the composites, suggesting it is the process of composite construction itself which is responsible for the poverty of the internal features. Practical implications of these results are discussed.

Facial composite; Witness; Internal features; External features; Unfamiliar face perception; Face Physiology; Face perception; Witnesses

British Journal of Psychology: Volume 98, Issue 1

Publication date28/02/2007
Publication date online24/12/2010
PublisherBritish Psychological Society

People (1)


Professor Peter Hancock

Professor Peter Hancock

Professor, Psychology