Dr Andrew Edmonds reports from the BPS Cognitive Section Conference

Dr Andrew Edmonds, Lecturer in Psychology at Staffordshire University, provides a short report from the BPS Cognitive Section Conference held in September 2015, in particular some new developments in his research area – facial recognition.

The highlight of this year’s Annual BPS Cognitive Section Conference – hosted by the University of Kent – was the fascinating sessions on face processing, superbly convened by my former mentor and co-author, Professor Bob Johnston. Two days of talks reflected on just how far research has come in the field over the last 40-50 years and highlighted some of the challenges still remaining. For example, research has shown that we are relatively poor at processing faces which are unfamiliar to us – such as picking a once-seen face out of a line-up, or even just determining that two simultaneously-presented faces are of the same person – but yet we are often very confident of our judgements in these situations. This has significant implications, not only suggesting that we are not always reliable eyewitnesses but that police officers and passport control officials may also make errors when performing their duties. Current research is therefore aiming to explore what factors affect our ability to perform these face matching tasks accurately – if we can identify these factors, this may help us to understand whether performance on these tasks can be improved and if so, how.

An example of why researching facial recognition and processing is important. The man on the right was convicted of an indecent assault based on the composite image on the left. This was a few years ago now but shows how inaccurate facial composites could lead to wrongful convictions of innocent individuals.

An example of why researching facial recognition and processing is important. The man on the right was correctly convicted of an indecent assault based on the composite image on the left – the development of more accurate facial processing software can have a significant impact on conviction of offenders.

Meanwhile, in the last 10-15 years huge amounts of progress have been made in the development of systems such as EvoFIT to help witnesses produce facial composites (likenesses of criminals) which can lead to the perpetrators of crimes being identified. Whilst identification of criminals from these images is still far from perfect, accuracy is now at such a level that researchers can begin to investigate what makes someone good at constructing an identifiable face composite (e.g. performing well on other face processing tasks, being able to refer to examples of the internal features of faces during composite construction etc.). Somewhat reassuringly, the early evidence suggests that being moderately intoxicated at the time of seeing the criminal does not significantly impair our ability to perfom this task – but the effects of hangovers have yet to be explored!

The conference was also an opportunity to renew old acquaintances and develop new ones, and I am excited by the prospect of collaborating with Dr Sarah Laurence from Keele University on some interesting new projects – we are both interested in how faces become familiar over time and what processes are involved in us learning a new face – so look out for more news on this in the future. I am really looking forward to welcoming Sarah to the university as part of the Visiting Speaker Series in November 2015, and hope to see you there too!

Dr Edmonds is a researcher and a member of the Cognitive Neuroscience Research Group part of the Staffordshire Centre for Psychological Research. For more information or details of the wide range of Psychology degrees on offer at Staffordshire University please visit our website and our courses page.

The School of Psychology, Sport and Exercise at Staffordshire University is a leading School in the UK for Psychology degrees and is situated in the heart of England.  We produce internationally recognized research which is driving knowledge in this area forward and we work with a variety of healthcare providers, charities, international sports teams and private sector organisations.


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  1. Pingback: Research Digest: New Research from Staffordshire’s Psychologists Presented at Conferences | InPsych @ Staffordshire University

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