Constructing faces from memory: the impact of image likeness and prototypical representations

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Published copy (DOI)


  • Charlie D. Frowd
  • David White
  • Richard I. Kemp
  • Rob Jenkins
  • Kamran Nawaz
  • Kate Herold


Publication details

JournalJournal of Forensic Practice
DatePublished - 2014
Issue number4
Number of pages14
Pages (from-to)243–256
Original languageEnglish


Research suggests that memory for unfamiliar faces is pictorial in nature, with recognition negatively affected by changes to image-specific information such as head pose, lighting and facial expression. Further, within-person variation causes some images to resemble a subject more than others. Here, we explored the impact of target-image choice on face construction using a modern evolving type of composite system, EvoFIT. Participants saw an unfamiliar target identity and then created a single composite of it the following day with EvoFIT by repeatedly selecting from arrays of faces with ‘breeding’, to ‘evolve’ a face. Targets were images that had been previously categorised as low, medium or high likeness, or a face prototype comprising averaged photographs of the same individual. Identification of composites of low likeness targets was inferior but increased as a significant linear trend from low to medium to high likeness. Also, identification scores decreased when targets changed by pose and expression, but not by lighting. Similarly, composite identification from prototypes was more accurate than those from low likeness targets, providing some support that image averages generally produce more robust memory traces. The results emphasise the potential importance of matching a target’s pose and expression at face construction; also, for obtaining image-specific information for construction of facial-composite images, a result that would appear to be useful to developers and researchers of composite software.

    Research areas

  • Identification, Offenders, Facial composites, Sources of error, Victims of crime, Memory

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