Improving the quality of facial composites using a holistic cognitive interview



Frowd CD, Bruce V, Smith AJ & Hancock PJB (2008) Improving the quality of facial composites using a holistic cognitive interview. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, 14 (3), pp. 276-287.

Witnesses to and victims of serious crime are normally asked to describe the appearance of a criminal suspect, using a Cognitive Interview (CI), and to construct a facial composite, a visual representation of the face. Research suggests that focussing on the more global aspects of a face, as opposed to its facial features, facilitates recognition and improves composite quality; also, that the CI enables more effective use of a composite system. The current study evaluated a novel ‘holistic’ Cognitive Interview (H-CI). This comprised a descriptive phase, using a CI, followed by a recognition-enhancing phase, involving the attribution of seven holistic properties. Participant-witnesses watched a video of a target, then 3-4 hours later received either a CI or an H-CI and constructed a single composite with a standard system, PRO-fit. Composites constructed after the H-CI were correctly named more than four times as often as those after the CI, attributable to an improvement in the quality of both the internal and external parts of the face. In police work, the H-CI offers the possibility of substantially improving the identification of criminal suspects.

facial composite; trait attribution; holistic interview; cognitive interview

Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied: Volume 14, Issue 3

FundersEngineering and Physical Sciences Research Council
Publication date30/09/2008
Publication date online31/12/2008
PublisherAmerican Psychological Association

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Professor Peter Hancock

Professor Peter Hancock

Professor, Psychology