The benefit of context for facial-composite construction

Pages281-290
Publication Date09 November 2015
DOIhttps://doi.org/10.1108/JFP-08-2014-0022
Date09 November 2015
AuthorFaye C. Skelton,Charlie D. Frowd,Kathryn E Speers
SubjectHealth & social care,Criminology & forensic psychology,Forensic practice
The benefit of context for facial-composite
construction
Faye C. Skelton, Charlie D. Frowd and Kathryn E. Speers
Dr Faye C. Skelton is Lecturer
at the School of Life,
Sport and Social Sciences,
Edinburgh Napier University,
Edinburgh, UK.
Dr Charlie D. Frowd is based at
the Department of Psychology,
University of Winchester,
Winchester, UK.
Kathryn E. Speers is
Undergraduate Student
at the Department
of Psychology, University
of Central Lancashire,
Preston, UK.
Abstract
Purpose The purpose of this paper is to investigate whether the presence of a whole-face context during
facial composite production facilitates construction of facial composite images.
Design/methodology/approach In Experiment 1, constructors viewed a celebrity face and then
developed a facial composite using PRO-fit software in one of two conditions: either the full-face was visible
while facial features were selected, or only the feature currently being selected. The composites were named
by different participants. The authors then replicated the study using a more forensically valid procedure: in
Experiment 2 non-football fans viewed an image of a premiership footballer and 24 hours later constructed
a composite of the face with a trained software operator. The resulting composites were named by
football fans.
Findings In both studies, the presence of the facial context promoted more identifiable facial composites.
Research limitations/implications Current composite software was deployed in a conventional and
unconventional way to demonstrate the importance of facial context.
Practical implications Results confirm that composite software should have the whole-face context
visible to witnesses throughout construction. Although some software systems do this, there remain others
that present features in isolation and these findings show that these systems are unlikely to be optimal.
Originality/value This is the first study to demonstrate the importance of a full-face context for the
construction of facial composite images. Results are valuable to police forces and developers of composite
software.
Keywords Context, Facial composites, Police, Individual features, Software, Witnesses
Paper type Research paper
Witnesses to and victims of crime are often asked to describe the appearance of a criminal
they have seen, and to construct a likeness of the face. These facial composit esare
traditionally constructed by witnesses selecting individual facial features eyes, nose, mouth,
face shape and so forth to piece together an over all image. The police publish suc h images in
newspapers or on television in order to generate lines of enquiry. Unfortunately, recognition of
these feature-basedcomposites tends to be poor. For example, Frowd et al. (2005b) found
correct naming rates of around 20 percent for feature systems (such as PRO-fit and E-FIT)
used after a three- to four-hour delay; when a forensically valid two-day delay was inserted
between viewing th e face and composite construction, na ming rates were around 3 percent
(e.g. Frowd et al., 2005a, 2007b, 2015). Research has demonstrated that such a delay
negatively affects both face recall and recognition (e.g. Shapiro and Penrod, 1986; Shepherd,
1983), although it is more detriment al to recall and this is likely to impac t upon face
construction, wh ich typically occurs around two d ays post-event.
Due to a general difficulty in recalling information, interview techniques have been developed that
encompass different strategies to aid memory retrieval. Specifically, use of a cognitive interview
(CI) (Fisher and Geiselman, 1992) is associated with more detailed and accurate witness
Received 4 August 2014
Revised 24 October 2014
19 August 2015
Accepted 19 August 2015
DOI 10.1108/JFP-08-2014-0022 VOL. 17 NO. 4 2015, pp. 281-290, © Emerald Group Publishing Limited, ISSN 2050-8794
j
JOURNAL OF FORENSIC PRACTICE
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PAG E 2 8 1

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