ArticlePDF Available

Abstract and Figures

The creation of facial images by eyewitnesses using composite-production systems can be important for the investigation of crimes when the identity of the perpetrator is at issue. Despite technological advances, research indicates that composite-production systems produce poor likenesses of intended faces, even familiar faces. Furthermore, producing a composite appears to harm later recognition performance. Although morphing composites from multiple witnesses helps, likeness is still limited. The problem might stem from a mismatch between how faces are represented in memory (holistically) and how composite systems attempt to retrieve the memories (at the feature level). New methods of face recall involving judgments of whole faces hold greater promise.
Content may be subject to copyright.
Facial Composite Production by
Gary L. Wells and Lisa E. Hasel
Iowa State University
ABSTRACT—The creation of facial images by eyewitnesses
using composite-production systems can be important for
the investigation of crimes when the identity of the per-
petrator is at issue. Despite technological advances,
research indicates that composite-production systems
produce poor likenesses of intended faces, even familiar
faces. Furthermore, producing a composite appears to
harm later recognition performance. Although morphing
composites from multiple witnesses helps, likeness is still
limited. The problem might stem from a mismatch between
how faces are represented in memory (holistically) and
how composite systems attempt to retrieve the memories (at
the feature level). New methods of face recall involving
judgments of whole faces hold greater promise.
KEYWORDS—eyewitnesses; composites; face recall
Kirk Bloodsworth, a U.S. military veteran living in Maryland,
had never been in trouble with the law. Nevertheless, he was
convicted of the 1984 rape and murder of a 9-year-old girl and
was sentenced to die in Maryland’s gas chamber. Bloodsworth
became a suspect in the murder because an anonymous person
called police to say Bloodsworth looked like a composite face
that police had released to the media. Lacking a compelling alibi
for the time of the crime, police placed his photo in a photo
lineup and eyewitnesses identified him. After 9 years in prison,
DNA evidence vindicated Bloodsworth and also implicated the
actual murderer, Kimberly Ruffner (Junkin, 2004). Ruffner did
not look much like the composite, but Bloodsworth did, and
Bloodsworth was the only one in the photo lineup with hair that
matched the composite.
The Bloodsworth case illustrates some key points in this article.
First, laboratory research shows that a face composite by an eye-
witness is generally a poor representation of the original face.
Hence, a composite has the potential to lead crime investigators
away from the real perpetrator and toward an innocent person. Also,
a composite can bias the eyewitness away from identifying the
original face and toward a face that resembles the composite. We
review research on face composites, explore the question of why
people are not better at building them, examine a new approach to
face recall, and underscore the need for psychological science to
help address this important problem in the justice system.
The objective of many criminal investigations is to establish the
identity of the perpetrator. When there is a suspect, eyewitnesses
can help establish identity by viewing a lineup that contains that
suspect. When there is no suspect in the case, however, inves-
tigators often rely on eyewitnesses to help produce a likeness of
the perpetrator’s face. The first method for having eyewitnesses
produce a face from memory was the sketch artist. Today, how-
ever, U.S. law enforcement agencies use mechanized systems
and are over twice as likely to use computerized versions than
noncomputerized ones (McQuiston-Surrett, Topp, & Malpass,
in press).
Studies comparing sketch artists to mechanized systems are
rare, perhaps because sketch artists vary widely in their skills
and, hence, it would take a large sample of sketch artists ran-
domly sampled from an ill-defined population to make conclu-
sions. Accordingly, we restrict our review and discussion to
composite-production systems such as the Identi-Kit, Photo-Fit,
E-Fit, Mac-a-Mug, and FACES. The first two are early, non-
computerized collections of facial features (e.g., noses, eyes,
mouths, head shapes, hair styles) that can be superimposed to
create a face. The latter three are examples of modern, compu-
terized versions of the same idea but include more possible facial
features and more realistic visual results. FACES, for example,
includes 361 hair selections, 63 head shapes, 42 forehead lines,
410 eyebrows, 514 eyes, 593 noses, 561 lips, 416 jaw shapes, 145
moustaches, 152 beards, 33 goatees, 127 eyeglasses, 70 eye
lines, 147 smile lines, 50 mouth lines, and 40 chin lines. Figure 1
CDIR 465 BDispatch: 31.1.07 Journal: CDIR CE: Blackwell
Journal Name Manuscript No. Author Received: No. of pages: 5 Saravan A/Anand Kumar
Address correspondence to Gary L. Wells, Psychology Department,
West 112 Lago, Iowa State University, Ames, IA 50021; e-mail:
6Volume 16—Number 1Copyright r2007 Association for Psychological Science
CDIR 465
(BWUS CDIR 465.PDF 31-Jan-07 15:59 907858 Bytes 5 PAGES n operator=M.V.Anantha)
shows a potential composite-building sequence using the FACES
program. Each panel shows one or more features added in a se-
quence of steps. The eyewitness can begin with any feature and
add features in any order. The upper left panel is hair only; the
upper middle panel adds eyes; the upper right panel adds head
shape and eyebrows (two steps); the lower left panel adds a nose;
the lower middle panel adds lips and jaw shape (two steps); and
the lower right panel adds forehead lines, eye lines, smile lines,
mouth lines, and chin lines (five steps). A witness can go back
and change any feature (e.g., eyes) by selecting a different one
and the new feature replaces the old one.
The evolution of face-composite systems has generally in-
volved increasing the number of available features, increasing
the realism of the composite produced, and increasing the user-
friendliness of the system. Recently, a new generation of face-
recall systems has emerged that moves away from the feature-
selection method of previous composite systems and instead
uses whole faces. In one sense, these new systems, discussed
later in this article, are not really composite systems at all, but
they might hold greater promise for face recall than that of their
Research on the ability of people to use composite systems to
produce likenesses of intended faces has a 30-year history, be-
ginning with researchers in the United Kingdom. The results
were disappointing from the outset (e.g., see Davies, Ellis, &
Shepherd, 1978), and modern, computerized versions have not
fared much better (Davies & Valentine, 2006). Many methods of
assessing the accuracy of face composites have been developed,
including matching tasks (‘‘Which of these faces was this com-
posite intended to depict?’’), naming tasks (e.g., ‘‘What famous
person is this?’’), and similarity-rating tasks (‘‘How similar is this
composite to this actual face?’’). One of the problems is the
difficulty of comparing these measures across different studies,
because each measure tends to depend on context. Matching
tasks, for example, are sensitive to the similarity among the al-
ternatives presented and the set size of the alternatives. Even if
chance were defined as 25% in a four-alternative measure, a
given composite might show a 60% match rate for four alterna-
tive faces if the faces were very different from one another or a
30% match rate if the alternative faces were more similar to each
If it is difficult to compare measures across studies, it is even
more difficult to describe some ‘‘absolute’’ level of performance.
So, why have researchers tended to conclude that composite-
production systems typically produce poor likenesses of the
intended targets? Poor relative to what? Clearly, this is a judg-
ment call, but we agree with this overall conclusion based on two
general observations. First, studies in which individuals at-
tempted to create composites of famous faces show that very few
people recognize the composite face even though they know the
face of the famous person very well. Frowd et al. (2005), for
instance, found that participants correctly named only 2.8% (22
of 800 possible) of a group of 50 famous faces based on
Fig. 1. Progressive sequence of building a composite face using the FACES 3.0 (IQ Biometrics) program. The eyewitness begins with any feature
and adds features in any order. In this case, hair (upper left) is followed by eyes (upper middle); head shape and eyebrows (upper right); nose
(lower left); lips and jaw shape (lower middle); and forehead lines, eye lines, smile lines, mouth lines, and chin lines (lower right).
Volume 16—Number 1 7
Gary L. Wells and Lisa E. Hasel
CDIR 465
(BWUS CDIR 465.PDF 31-Jan-07 15:59 907858 Bytes 5 PAGES n operator=M.V.Anantha)
composites of those faces that had been created by other indi-
viduals. Similarly, people seem largely unable to recognize
people they personally know from composites of those individ-
uals. Kovera, Penrod, Pappas, and Thill, (1997), for example,
found that people were unable to discriminate between com-
posites of their classmates they knew and composites of students
from other schools whom they did not know. In general, studies of
composite production reveal that participants create poor like-
nesses of intended faces, regardless of whether the composite
builder knows the target face or has had only a brief encounter
with that person, and regardless of the type of task (naming,
matching, or similarity rating) used to assess the likeness (see
Davies & Valentine, 2006, for an excellent review).
Recent research has shown that there can be benefits to
morphing (averaging at the pixel level) multiple composite faces
of the same individual created by different eyewitnesses (Bruce,
Ness, Hancock, Newman, & Rarity, 2002; Hasel & Wells, 2007).
Sampling across 16 different strategically sampled target faces,
Hasel and Wells (2007) found that morphing composites from
four independent participants, each of whom had viewed the
same target face, produced a new image that was a better like-
ness of the target than was the average individual composite.
Judges rated the similarity of each composite to the target face
plus three distractor faces. Using the individual composites, the
target received the highest rating 35% of the time (chance 5
25%). Using morphed composites, however, the target received
the highest rating 48% of the time. The superiority of the morph
is evident in Figure 2, which depicts an example from the Hasel
and Wells experiment. The figure shows one of the 16 target
faces, four composites prepared by separate participants, meant
to depict that target, and the morphed result from the four
composites. The example in Figure 2 is one of the better results
across the 16 target faces, but it illustrates the general pattern we
observed: Morphing the composites produces a better likeness of
the target than any one of the individual composites. Participants
who built composites also rated how good they thought their own
individual composites were. Those receiving the highest ratings
were not more similar to the target faces than were the average
individual composites, indicating that the composite builders
were poor judges of how good or bad their own composites were.
Target face
Morph of the four composites
Composite 1
Composite 3
Composite 4
Composite 2
Fig. 2. A target face, four composites made by separate individuals, and the
morph of the four composites. From the Hasel & Wells (2007) study.
8Volume 16—Number 1
Facial Composite Production by Eyewitnesses
CDIR 465
(BWUS CDIR 465.PDF 31-Jan-07 15:59 907858 Bytes 5 PAGES n operator=M.V.Anantha)
No composite system could have enough facial-feature choices
to represent the physiognomic variability of the human face. But,
is the absence of enough features the problem with composite
systems? Not likely. Wells and Hryciw (1984), for example,
showed participants target faces that were created using the
Identi-Kit and the participants also used the Identi-Kit for
building their composites. Hence, it would have been possible to
perfectly reconstruct the target face because every one of its
features was available for selection from the composite kit.
Nevertheless, resemblance scores from judges averaged less
than 2.0 on a 7-point scale (1 5does not resemble, 7 5closely
resembles). Furthermore, despite incredible advances in the
technology of composite systems, including large increases in
the number of facial features available, enhanced realism such
that composites are almost indistinguishable from actual faces,
and varied methods of approaching the task of building the
composite, these technological advances have resulted in no
consistent improvement in composite likenesses to the original
faces (Davies & Valentine, 2006).
The dominant view in the research literature for over two
decades has been that there is a mismatch between the task
demands that are somewhat inherent in all composite systems
and the way that faces are usually perceived and remembered.
Numerous lines of evidence converge on the view that faces are
generally processed, stored, and retrieved at a holistic level
rather than at the level of individual facial features (see Tanaka
& Farah, 2003). There are various views of what is meant by
holistic, but the general idea is that the psychological process is
not merely a processing of individual facial features (e.g., eyes,
nose, mouth). Instead, faces might be represented in terms of
their multidimensional similarity to other known faces (e.g.,
Valentine, 1995) or in a coordinate spatial relations system that
includes distances between features, relative sizes of features,
and so on that cannot be separated from the features themselves
(Cooper & Wojan, 2000). As a result of holistic processing, recall
of individual facial features is rather poor; and yet face-com-
posite systems require the individual to recall individual facial
This is not to say that whole faces cannot be processed at the
feature level if the task demands it. Wells and Hryciw (1984) had
participants evaluate faces for 10 personality traits (e.g., how
honest is this person?), a task that is likely to be performed based
on whole-face processing, or evaluate faces for 10 physical-
feature characteristics (e.g., how large is this person’s nose?), a
task that forces processing of isolated facial features. Later,
participants either attempted to recognize the faces they had
evaluated from six-person photo lineups or use the Identi-Kit to
build the faces from memory. Those who rated the faces for
personality traits performed much better on the lineup recog-
nition tasks than did those who rated the individual features, but
the opposite result occurred for the Identi-Kit task. This result is
consistent with the idea that holistic processing (encouraged by
personality-trait encoding) helps later recognition of the whole
face but harms composite task performance whereas feature-
based processing harms later recognition of the whole face and
helps composite task performance.
The view that faces are normally processed and stored in some
type of holistic fashion rather than stored as constituent parts has
led researchers to develop whole-face methods for face recall.
These systems are still under development. They begin by
generating a random set of faces and the witness selects the face
most similar to memory for the target face. This face becomes the
‘‘parent’’ face that yields a new set of faces that are mutations of
that face, using any of a number of possible algorithms, and the
witness again makes a choice. This process is repeated until the
witness cannot choose because all the faces resemble the target
face equally well. Systems of this sort have been developed by
Hancock (2000) and by Gibson, Pallares-Bejarano, & Solomon
(2003). Comparison of these systems to traditional composite
systems has thus far been very limited. The few tests thus far
have not shown these particular versions of whole-face sys-
tems to be superior to traditional composite systems (Davies &
Valentine, 2006). Nevertheless, these whole-face systems rep-
resent a radically different approach to producing composite
faces and seem to hold the best prospects for a breakthrough
because they rely on the idea, derived from basic research on
face processing, that faces are processed holistically.
The difficulty that people have with constructing face compos-
ites is not the result of weak memory for faces per se. People
produce poor composite likenesses even for faces that they know
very well and can easily recognize (Frowd, et. al., 2005). Instead,
it appears that human face processing is designed more for face
recognition, which is facilitated by holistic representations, than
it is for face recall, which requires individual feature repre-
sentations. Within a few days of birth, babies can recognize their
mothers’ faces, infants as young as 3 months show evidence of
integrating facial features into a whole rather than perceiving
them as individual features, and early visual experience appears
to naturally set up a neural substrate for holistic processing of
faces (Le Grand, Mondloch, Maurer, & Brent, 2004).
Why would human development favor a holistic representa-
tion of human faces rather than a feature-based representation of
human faces? One possibility stems from our earlier observation
that holistic representations facilitate recognition whereas fea-
ture-based representations facilitate recall (Wells & Hryciw,
1984). We speculate that evolutionary pressures might be re-
sponsible for mental systems favoring face recognition (and,
Volume 16—Number 1 9
Gary L. Wells and Lisa E. Hasel
CDIR 465
(BWUS CDIR 465.PDF 31-Jan-07 15:59 907858 Bytes 5 PAGES n operator=M.V.Anantha)
hence, holistic processing) over feature-based face recall. Spe-
cifically, survival likely favored those who could readily recog-
nize faces so as to make rapid judgments of a familiar versus
unfamiliar face, friend versus foe, family versus nonfamily, and
so on. But what was the survival value of face recall? It could be
argued that face recall would have had some survival value (e.g.,
to communicate to family members the identity of a specific
dangerous individual). However, a more efficient and reliable
survival mechanism would be to simply avoid strangers, which
favors face recognition and holistic processing over face recall
and feature-based processing. Evolutionary processes that
shaped the human brain could not anticipate modern technology
and the needs and demands of a modern society.
Future research should give more weight to the question of
how people naturally process faces so as to create face-recall
systems that are congruent with natural face processing. Natural
face processing has a strong holistic bias and, therefore, systems
that require retrieval of memory for isolated facial features are
not likely to ever work well. Creating systems that reflect how
people actually process faces will require a better understanding
of what is meant by holistic face processing and why holistic
processing reduces the accessibility of information about indi-
vidual features.
Attempts to evaluate and improve face composites fit into a
larger problem in the criminal justice system. Analyses of the
first 180 DNA exonerations in the United States reveal that
mistaken eyewitness identification testimony was involved in
75% of the cases. Increasingly, it is becoming clear that errors in
human memory are accounting for more of the convictions of
innocent people than are all other causes combined. As the
historical and natural home of the science of memory, psycho-
logical science has great promise for helping to solve an age-old
Recommended Reading
Davies G.M., & Valentine T. (2006). (See References)
Frowd, C.D., Carson, D., Ness, H., Richardson, J., Morrison, L.,
McLanaghan, S. (2005). (See References)
Wells, G.L., Memon, A., & Penrod, S.D. (2006). Eyewitness evidence:
Improving its probative value. Psychological Science in the Public
Interest,7, 45–75.
Wells, G.L., & Olson, E. (2003). Eyewitness identification. Annual
Review of Psychology,54, 277–295.
Acknowledgments—This research was supported by a grant
from the National Science Foundation to the first author.
Bruce, V., Ness, H., Hancock, P.J.B., Newman, C., & Rarity, J. (2002).
Four heads are better than one: Combining face composites yields
improvements in face likeness. Journal of Applied Psychology,87,
Cooper, E.E., & Wojan, T.J. (2000). Differences in the coding of spatial
relations in face identification and basic-level object recognition.
Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and
Cognition,26, 470–488.
Davies, G.M., Ellis, H.D., & Shepherd, J.W. (1978). Face recognition
accuracy as a function of mode of representation. Journal of
Applied Psychology,63, 180–187.
Davies, G.M., & Valentine, T. (2006). Facial composites: Forensic
utility and psychological research. In R.C.L. Lindsay, D.F. Ross,
J.D. Read, & M.P. Toglia (Eds.), Handbook of eyewitness psychol-
ogy Vol. 2 (pp. 59–86). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
Frowd, C.D., Carson, D., Ness, H., Richardson, J., Morrison, L., &
McLanaghan, S. (2005). A forensically valid comparison of facial
composite systems. Psychology, Crime & Law,11, 33–52.
Gibson, S., Pallares-Bejarano, A., & Solomon, C. (2003). Synthesis of
photographic quality facial composites using evolutionary algo-
rithms. In R. Harvey & J.A. Bangham (Eds.), Proceedings of the
British Machine Vision Conference 2003 (pp. 221–230). London:
British Machine Vision Association.
Hancock, P.J.B. (2000). Evolving faces from principal components.
Behavior Research Methods, Instruments and Computers,32,
Hasel, L.E., & Wells, G.L. (2007). Catching the bad guy: Morphing
composite faces helps [electronic version]. Law and Human Be-
havior. Retrieved January 12, 2007 from
Junkin, T. (2004). Bloodsworth: The true story of the first death row in-
mate exonerated by DNA. Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin Books of
Chapel Hill.
Kovera, M.B., Penrod, S.D., Pappas, C., & Thill, D.L. (1997). Identifi-
cation of computer-generated facial composites. Journal of Applied
Psychology,82, 235–246.
Le Grand, R., Mondloch, C.J., Maurer, D., & Brent, H.P. (2004). Im-
pairment in holistic face processing following early visual depri-
vation. Psychological Science,15, 762–768.
McQuiston-Surrett, D., Topp, L.D., & Malpass, R.S. (in presss). Use of
facial composite systems in U.S. law enforcement agencies. Psy-
chology, Crime, and Law.
Tanaka, J.W., & Farah, M.J. (2003). The holistic representation of faces.
In M.A. Peterson & G. Rhodes. Perception of faces, objects and
scenes (pp. 53–740). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Valentine, T. (1995). Cognitive and computational aspects of face rec-
ognition: Explorations in face space. London: Routledge.
Wells, G.L., & Hryciw, B. (1984). Memory for faces: Encoding and
retrieval operations. Memory and Cognition,12, 338–344.
10 Volume 16—Number 1
Facial Composite Production by Eyewitnesses
CDIR 465
(BWUS CDIR 465.PDF 31-Jan-07 15:59 907858 Bytes 5 PAGES n operator=M.V.Anantha)
Author Query Form
Dear Author,
During the copy
editing of your paper, the following queries arose. Please respond to these by marking up your proofs with the necessary
changes/additions. Please write your answers clearly on the query sheet if there is insufficient space on the page proofs. If returning the
proof by fax do not write too close to the paper's edge. Please remember that illegible mark
ups may delay publication.
Author Response
No Queries
... The CI was designed to enable a person to recall as much accurate information as possible and, given the importance to police and other investigations, has been the subject of considerable research and revision (e.g. Wells and Hasel 2007). In essence, the CI contains a set of techniques, or mnemonics, designed to facilitate recall. ...
... Curiously, one of the aims of creating composite kits was to allow police personnel without formal training in drawing techniques to create composite images with witnesses, but it is clear that such skills, as well as skills in interviewing techniques, are necessary and important for effective construction of composites (e.g. Davies et al. 1983;Fisher et al. 1989;Frowd 2012;Memon et al. 1997;Wells et al. 2007). ...
... Other research has found similar results (e.g. Davis et al. 2015;Frowd et al. 2006aFrowd et al. , 2012bWells and Hasel 2007). ...
Law enforcement agencies often rely on practical technologies to help witnesses and victims of crimes construct likenesses of faces from memory. These ‘face composites’ are typically circulated to law enforcement officers and made accessible to the public in the hope that someone familiar with the depicted person will recognise their likeness and thus provide the police with a suspect. We will review methods for constructing such likenesses from memory dating back to the portrait parlé of Alphonse Bertillon (Signaletic instructions including the theory and practice of anthropometrical identification. Werner Company, 1896) and the composite images of Francis Galton (Nature 18:97-100, 1878). We will also review more modern methods, ranging from the overlay techniques of Identi-Kit (McDonald, c 1959) and Photo-Fit (Penry J. The Police Journal 43:307, 1970) to feature-based computerised composite systems such as Identi-Kit 2000, FACES, and ProMat. Most early systems were based on the common-sense notion that sectioning a face is invertible: just as a face can be sectioned into components, so it can be recreated by arrangements of sections. This assumption appears to be unwarranted. The underlying problem with earlier face systems may have been the absence of a representational or computational theory. This led in the late 1990s to the development of the so-called third-generation holistic composite systems, which are based on underlying statistical and mathematical models of face images (e.g. ID [Tredoux et al. South African Computer Journal 2006:90–97, 2006], EvoFIT [Frowd CD, Hancock PJB, & Carson D. ACM Transactions on Applied Psychology (TAP) 1:1-21, 2004a], E-FIT [Gibson et al., International Conference on Visualisation, 146–151, 2003]). A special focus of the chapter will be on these newer technologies and other recent technological innovations. Our approach will be to review (i) the methods of operation, (ii) the techniques identified by psychologists and other researchers for improving the quality of information obtained from memory, and (iii) the empirical data on the effectiveness of these systems at representing faces from memory. We will consider related issues, too, including the question of whether face composites damage witness memory, and the ethics of face composition.KeywordsMemoryEyewitnessFace compositeFace likenessSynthetic face
... Synthesising the contributions of the previous literature, Wells and Hasel (2007) explain that the recognition of a face would be optimised if the interviewee is asked to remember, beforehand, the 72 Training, Language and Culture 'The hypothesis of re-encoding interference, or 'content hypothesis', describes the same attempt at explanation: the verbal process of the description of a face would result in a representation in the verbal memory (or 'verbal code') which would interfere with the original representation of the same face in the visual memory (or 'visual code')' context in which this face was seen. In addition, the identification of individual facial features is facilitated by presenting these features on a full face (Tanaka & Farah, 1993;Tanaka & Sengco, 1997). ...
... For example, the production of verbal descriptions is facilitated when a face is coded by its physical characteristics, rather than in the form of one or more personality judgments. In 2007, the Wells research team of the University of Iowa showed that recalling information on a face could be more accurate and complete if the interviewee does not experience a break when describing the subject face and can make multiple attempts at remembering (Wells & Hasel, 2007). ...
... 9,10 Furthermore, researchers have repeatedly raised concerns surrounding the risks of solely relying upon eyewitness identification evidence to aid in the search and accurate identification of offenders, as it has been determined to be easily susceptible to suggestibility, bias and error. [11][12][13][14] Moreover, facial identification information recalled by witnesses may be particularly unreliable because of a frequently reported lack of specificity of facial descriptors 15,16 and a poor similarity of facial composites to intended target faces 8 . Nonetheless, evidence obtained from eyewitnesses is essential to criminal investigations, specifically in the absence of other incriminating evidence and in time-sensitive cases, where retrieving camera imagery may take too long. ...
Full-text available
Facial identification evidence obtained from eyewitnesses, such as person descriptions and facial composites, plays a fundamental role in criminal investigations and is regularly regarded as valuable evidence for apprehending and prosecuting perpetrators. However, the reliability of such facial identification information is often queried. Person descriptions are frequently reported in the research literature as being vague and generalisable, whilst facial composites often exhibit a poor likeness to an intended target face. This raises questions regarding the accuracy of eyewitness facial identification information and its ability to facilitate efficient searches for unknown perpetrators of crimes. More specifically, it questions whether individuals, blind to the appearance of a perpetrator of a crime (i.e. the public), can correctly identify the intended target face conveyed by facial identification information recalled from eyewitness memory, and which of the two traditional facial identification formats would be better relied upon by law enforcement to enable such searches. To investigate this, in the current study (N=167) we employed two metrics – identification accuracy and identification precision – to assess the utility of different formats of eyewitness facial identification information in enabling participants to correctly identify an unknown target face across three different formats: facial descriptions, facial composites and computer-generated description-based synthetic faces. A statistically significant main effect for the format of facial identification information on identification accuracy (p
... This ineffable quality poses a challenge, to model this phenomenon and more importantly, understand how this is accomplished. Faces are surprisingly hard to describe -this ineffable quality being demonstrated by how composite faces based on eyewitnesses' descriptions produce poor likenesses (Wells & Hasel 2007). The intricate internal geometry of faces, with the subtle but wide-ranging differences along with variations in color, texture, luminance and features make faces one of the most complex visual stimuli (Barton 2003). ...
Full-text available
The primary models of understanding human face recognition aim to understand not only facial identity information processing but also non-identity facial information processing. The present review discusses the major theoretical approaches in this regard and critically evaluates the existing empirical evidence in conjunction with the said models.
Full-text available
Faces are the most common biometric used for the identification of a person. Law enforcement agencies use face as a key point to identify the suspect involved in unlawful activities. Forensic sketches are normally developed by the sketch artist based on verbal details provided by an eyewitness about the suspect. In a forensic sketch, the facial description depends on the memory of the eyewitness; therefore, there is uncertainty in facial attributes. In the recent past, lots of sketch-to-photograph retrieval methods are proposed by many researchers; however, they have ignored the uncertainty of facial attributes for suspect face retrieval. Recently, linguistic information is also utilized for suspect face retrieval. In this paper, we have provided an extensive review of the available methods for suspect face retrieval using visual and linguistic information. The review focuses firstly on the traditional methods and their categorization also shows the evolution of suspect face retrieval approaches over the years. We have also shown the summary of the performance of representative state-of-the-art methods.
Meditative mindfulness practices, promoting sustained attention and reducing mind‐wandering, have been associated with improvements in cognitive abilities and memory. The present study explored whether a non‐meditative practice could be successfully applied in a forensic application; specifically, whether mindfulness instructions can be embedded in the face‐composite construction process to facilitate identification. Twenty participants, who were not football fans, were asked to memorise an unfamiliar footballer's face and return 24 hours later to construct a face using the self‐administered EvoFIT facial composite system. In the experimental condition, mindfulness instructions were embedded in the EvoFIT system, encouraging witnesses to focus on the target face and the process; in the control condition, participants constructed the face using the standard EvoFIT system. Naming of the composites was attempted by 24 football fans, who each viewed 10 composites, five from each condition, and then the target footballer images to ensure they were familiar with the identities. Results showed significantly higher levels of correct naming for composites constructed using EvoFIT with mindfulness instructions compared to using the standard EvoFIT. These findings indicate the potential for non‐meditative mindfulness instructions to assist face‐composite construction, improving correct naming of ensuing composites. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.
Face recognition from surveillance video in a forensic scenario is a very challenging task. Much of the existing work focuses on face recognition in a video where the video frames are of high-resolution, containing faces in frontal pose and in optimal lighting conditions. However, new challenges are encountered as applications of face recognition advance from cooperative and constrained scenarios to uncooperative subjects in unconstrained scenarios such as video surveillance. These challenges are due to low image resolution, variant expressions, face orientations, partial occlusion, complex background and the differences in surrounding illumination. In criminal investigations, the aim is to identify a culprit by collecting the information from the various face input media that includes video tracks, still face images, 3D model of a face, and verbal descriptions of the person presented by eyewitness. Face sketch may be generated from these verbal descriptions which can be matched against mug shot database. This paper reviews various methods and techniques used to identify a person of interest in an unconstrained environment with the above-mentioned challenges.
Full-text available
Facial composite images are often used in the criminal investigation process to facilitate the search for and identification of someone who has committed a crime. Since the use of facial composite images is sometimes relied upon as an integral part of an investigation, it is important to ascertain information about the various decisions made and procedures implemented by law enforcement regarding the use of composites. A 39-item survey was developed to examine the prevalence of a number of procedures related to composite production, including the systems implemented, criteria for selecting systems, law enforcement training, satisfaction with systems, legal challenges, and procedural issues with respect to interviewing multiple witnesses and the distribution of composite images. Surveys were distributed to 1637 city, state and county law enforcement agencies nationwide; 163 completed surveys were returned. This paper summarizes our survey results and discusses the implications for investigative procedures, law enforcement training, and future research needs.
Full-text available
The criminal justice system relies heavily on eyewitnesses to determine the facts surrounding criminal events. Eyewitnesses may identify culprits, recall conversations, or remember other details. An eyewitness who has no motive to lie is a powerful form of evidence for jurors, especially if the eyewitness appears to be highly confident about his or her recollection. In the absence of definitive proof to the contrary, the eyewitness's account is generally accepted by police, prosecutors, judges, and juries. However, the faith the legal system places in eyewitnesses has been shaken recently by the advent of forensic DNA testing. Given the right set of circumstances, forensic DNA testing can prove that a person who was convicted of a crime is, in fact, innocent. Analyses of DNA exoneration cases since 1992 reveal that mistaken eyewitness identification was involved in the vast majority of these convictions, accounting for more convictions of innocent people than all other factors combined. We review the latest figures on these DNA exonerations and explain why these cases can only be a small fraction of the mistaken identifications that are occurring. Decades before the advent of forensic DNA testing, psychologists were questioning the validity of eyewitness reports. Hugo Münsterberg's writings in the early part of the 20th century made a strong case for the involvement of psychological science in helping the legal system understand the vagaries of eyewitness testimony. But it was not until the mid- to late 1970s that psychologists began to conduct programmatic experiments aimed at understanding the extent of error and the variables that govern error when eyewitnesses give accounts of crimes they have witnessed. Many of the experiments conducted in the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s resulted in articles by psychologists that contained strong warnings to the legal system that eyewitness evidence was being overvalued by the justice system in the sense that its impact on triers of fact (e.g., juries) exceeded its probative (legal-proof) value. Another message of the research was that the validity of eyewitness reports depends a great deal on the procedures that are used to obtain those reports and that the legal system was not using the best procedures. Although defense attorneys seized on this nascent research as a tool for the defense, it was largely ignored or ridiculed by prosecutors, judges, and police until the mid 1990s, when forensic DNA testing began to uncover cases of convictions of innocent persons on the basis of mistaken eyewitness accounts. Recently, a number of jurisdictions in the United States have implemented procedural reforms based on psychological research, but psychological science has yet to have its fullest possible influence on how the justice system collects and interprets eyewitness evidence. The psychological processes leading to eyewitness error represent a confluence of memory and social-influence variables that interact in complex ways. These processes lend themselves to study using experimental methods. Psychological science is in a strong position to help the criminal justice system understand eyewitness accounts of criminal events and improve their accuracy. A subset of the variables that affect eyewitness accuracy fall into what researchers call system variables, which are variables that the criminal justice system has control over, such as how eyewitnesses are instructed before they view a lineup and methods of interviewing eyewitnesses. We review a number of system variables and describe how psychological scientists have translated them into procedures that can improve the probative value of eyewitness accounts. We also review estimator variables, variables that affect eyewitness accuracy but over which the system has no control, such as cross-race versus within-race identifications. We describe some concerns regarding external validity and generalization that naturally arise when moving from the laboratory to the real world. These include issues of base rates, multicollinearity, selection effects, subject populations, and psychological realism. For each of these concerns, we briefly note ways in which both theory and field data help make the case for generalization.
Full-text available
The relative effectiveness of line drawings and photographs as ways of representing information in face reconstruction systems was compared in 2 experiments. In Exp I, 3 independent groups of college students (27 in each group) were required to identify well-known faces shown either as photographs, detailed line drawings, or outline drawings. Photographs were significantly more effective as stimuli than line drawings, which in turn were superior to outlines. In Exp II, 80 Ss aged 16–60 yrs recruited from the public participated in a recognition task. Photographs and detailed line drawings of previously unknown faces served as stimuli. Ss recognized photographs significantly more accurately than line drawings, even when the pose of the target was changed between the exposure and test series. Results are discussed in terms of the development of computer-based face reconstruction systems and theories of face recognition. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)
Full-text available
The reliable finding that trait judgments of faces yield better recognition memory than do feature judgments of faces is conceptualized as an encoding-specificity effect. Specifically, both trait-judgment encodings of faces and face-recognition tests are argued to be holistic, involving topographical information with between-feature processing. Consistent with the concept that encoding and retrieval operations interact to produce retrieval success, it was expected that a memory-for-face test using the Identi-kit (which requires reconstructions of the face at a feature level of analysis) would show trait-encoding tasks to be inferior to feature-encoding tasks. Eighty subjects were assigned randomly to judge a face on 10 trait dimensions (e.g., honesty-dishonesty) or on 10 feature dimensions (e.g., narrow nose-wide nose) and subsequently attempted to recognize the target among five distractors or to reconstruct the face from an Identi-kit. The significant interaction between encoding and retrieval operations indicated that the face was best identified under trait-encoding conditions but best reconstructed under feature-encoding conditions. The match between trait encoding and recognition in yielding high memory performance suggests strongly that trait judgments foster holistic processing of faces (i.e., interfeature topographical information is p-art of the context) and that the recognition of faces also is holistic. Finally, the utility of the feature- vs. holistic-processing distinction is questioned, and an alternative is proposed.
Full-text available
Two studies examined the effectiveness of the Mac-a-Mug Pro, a computerized facial composite production system. In the first study, college freshmen prepared from memory composites of other students and faculty from their former high schools. Other students who had attended the same high schools could not recognize the composites of either students or faculty members when the composites of individuals known to them (n = 10) were mixed with composites of a large number (n = 40) of strangers. Neither preparer familiarity with the target, preparer-assessed composite quality, nor viewer familiarity predicted composite recognition. Study 2 indicated that naive witnesses who viewed the composites could not select the people depicted in the composites from photo lineups (1 target and 4 foils). The results raise questions about the efficacy of composite systems as tools to promote recognition of suspects in criminal contexts.
This chapter argues that faces are recognized as undifferentiated wholes, rather than in terms of their constituent parts. It tests the hypothesis: If some portion of a stimulus is represented as an independent part, then it should be easy to recognize that portion as part of the stimulus regardless of whether it is shown in isolation or within the context of the whole stimulus. It describes research indicating that face components (e.g., the eyes, nose, and mouth) were better recognized as belonging to a certain face when they were shown within the context of the whole (upright) face than when they were shown alone. Based on a series of studies producing similar results, the chapter argues that recognition of upright faces relies almost exclusively on holistic representations whereas recognition of other kinds of objects, including inverted faces, relies on part-based as well as holistic representations.
A facial composite system is described for use in criminal investigations which has distinct advantages over current methods. Unlike traditional fea- ture based methods, our approach uses both local and global facial mod- els, allowing a witness to evolve plausible, photo-realistic face images in an intuitive way. The basic method combines random sampling from a facial appearance model (AM) with an evolutionary algorithm (EA) to drive the search procedure to convergence. Three variants of the evolutionary algo- rithm have been explored and their performance measured using a computer simulation of a human witness (virtual witness). Further system functional- ity, provided by local appearance models and transformations of the appear- ance space which respectively allow both local features and semantic facial attributes to be manipulated, is presented. Preliminary examples of compos- ites generated with our system are presented which demonstrate the potential superiority of the evolutionary approach to composite generation.
An evaluation of E-FIT, PROfit, Sketch, Photofit and EvoFIT composite construction techniques was carried out in a “forensically friendly format”: composites of unfamiliar targets were constructed from memory following a 3-4-hour delay using a Cognitive Interview and experienced operators. The main dependent variable was spontaneous naming and overall performance was low (10% average naming rate). E-FITs were named better than all techniques except PROfit, though E-FIT was superior to PROfit when the target was more distinctive. E-FIT, PROfit and Sketch were similar overall in a composite sorting task, but Sketch emerged best for more average-looking targets. Photofit performed poorly, as did EvoFIT, an experimental system. Overall, facial distinctiveness was found to be an important factor for composite naming.