Dr Sarah Laurence has been awarded a £235,000 grant from the Economic and Social Research Council to explore how we recognise faces across substantial changes in appearance, which has implications in security and forensic work.
The three-year study, Recognition of the Ageing Face, will explore how memories allow people to remember familiar faces and determine why unfamiliar face recognition is particularly prone to error when the person has aged, such as proving one's identity when renewing a passport or identifying a criminal from old CCTV footage.
Dr Laurence said:
“The face can change dramatically in appearance as people age. This doesn’t seem to affect familiar face recognition, but it makes it difficult to decide whether or not two images are of the same unfamiliar person. My research will look at memory, perception and ageing by examining the different factors that affect a person’s ability to match an image with someone who is now older.”
The research will also assess how experts in security and police settings who have above-average face recognition abilities, known as “super-recognisers”, can match a photo of someone with a face that has changed with age.
Dr Laurence added:
“Unfamiliar face matching is difficult, especially if the photo was taken a long time ago. In my study I will test how super-recognisers can generalise photographs across age ranges and the findings could help establish recommendations for recruiting and training security and police personnel.”