Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Faces in the Crowd

Credit: kritchanut

Credit: kritchanut

Can naturally gifted face-recognisers improve the detection of lawbreakers?

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While many important justice, border and security procedures depend on accurate face recognition, prior studies have demonstrated that experienced and trained personnel may not be any better at the task than inexperienced untrained volunteers, with the performance of both groups marked by errors in matching individuals to identity documents or to previously viewed photographs. A new study in PLoS One (www.tinyurl.com/znssamk) has suggested that one solution to this problem would be to identify and recruit people to these roles who are naturally gifted at face recognition, and who demonstrate fewer errors on these tasks.

Previous studies have demonstrated significant individual differences in people’s ability to recognise faces. Most of us recognise familiar faces quickly and effortlessly, even when the image in a picture or video is of poor quality or viewed from an unusual angle. For unfamiliar faces, however, it is common that performance on standardised tests is marked by high error rates, with failures to match an identity card to its bearer and to correctly reject a mismatch.

One classic study reported that participants achieved only 70% accuracy at matching good quality, full-face photographs to individuals captured on video footage taken the same day. In another study,...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.