Research Output
Holistic face processing can inhibit recognition of forensic facial composites.
  Facial composite systems help eyewitnesses to show the appearance of criminals. However, likenesses created by unfamiliar witnesses will not be completely accurate, and people familiar with the target can find them difficult to identify. Faces are processed holistically; we explore whether this impairs identification of inaccurate composite images and whether recognition can be improved. In Experiment 1 (n =64) an imaging technique was used to make composites of celebrity faces more accurate and identification was contrasted with the original composite images. Corrected composites were better recognized, confirming that errors in production of the likenesses impair identification. The influence of holistic face processing was
explored by misaligning the top and bottom parts of the composites (cf. Young, Hellawell, & Hay, 1984). Misalignment impaired recognition of corrected composites but identification of the original, inaccurate composites significantly improved. This effect was replicated with facial composites of non-celebrities in Experiment 2 (n = 57). We conclude that, like real faces, facial composites are
processed holistically: recognition is impaired because unlike real faces, composites contain inaccuracies and holistic face processing makes it difficult to perceive
identifiable features. This effect was consistent across composites of celebrities and composites of people who are personally familiar. Our findings suggest that
identification of forensic facial composites can be enhanced by presenting composites in a misaligned format.

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  • Date:

    30 April 2016

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  • Publisher

    American Psychological Association

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Hancock, P. J. B., Frowd, C. D., Langton, S. R. H., & McIntyre, A. H. (2016). Holistic face processing can inhibit recognition of forensic facial composites. Law and Human Behavior, 40(2), 128-135.



Facial composite; face recognition; configural; featural; holistic; eyewitness;

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