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Molistic processing in facial image comparison

Fysh, Matthew C., Bindemann, Markus (2022) Molistic processing in facial image comparison. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 36 (4). pp. 830-841. ISSN 0888-4080. (doi:10.1002/acp.3975) (KAR id:96837)

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When comparing images of faces in criminal investigations, forensic facial examiners report key features such as moles to be particularly diagnostic of identity. However, scientific evidence for the efficacy of moles in facial identification is still limited. The current study systematically examined the effect of moles on facial image comparison by manipulating the presence and location of these small features. We found that observers untrained in facial image comparison spontaneously use moles to support identification decisions (Experiment 1). These effects were amplified when observers were prompted to utilise moles for identification (Experiment 2) and were sensitive to subtle differences in spatial location (Experiment 3). Moreover, identification accuracy was higher when observers were instructed to use moles only and dissociated from facial identification (Experiment 4). These findings demonstrate that observers are sensitive to the presence and location of moles in facial image comparison and shows the power of these small visual features to influence identification decisions.

Item Type: Article
DOI/Identification number: 10.1002/acp.3975
Additional information: For the purpose of open access, the author has applied a CC BY public copyright licence to any Author Accepted Manuscript version arising from this submission.
Uncontrolled keywords: facial image comparison, forensic facial examiners, moles, training, unfamiliar face matching
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Human and Social Sciences > School of Psychology
Funders: Economic and Social Research Council (
Depositing User: Markus Bindemann
Date Deposited: 09 Sep 2022 09:23 UTC
Last Modified: 25 Jul 2023 16:02 UTC
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