Configural and featural information in facial-composite images

Charlie D. Frowd, Sharrome Jones, Cristina Fodarella, Faye Skelton, Steve Fields, Anna Williams, John E. Marsh, Rachel Thorley, Laura Nelson, Leah Greenwood, Louisa Date, Kevin Kearley, Alex H. McIntyre, Peter J B Hancock

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Citations (Scopus)


Eyewitnesses are often invited to construct a facial composite, an image created of the person they saw commit a crime that is used by law enforcement to locate criminal suspects. In the current paper, the effectiveness of composite images was investigated from traditional feature systems (E-FIT and PRO-fit), where participants (face constructors) selected individual features to build the face, and a more recent holistic system (EvoFIT), where they 'evolved' a composite by repeatedly selecting from arrays of complete faces. Further participants attempted to name these composites when seen as an unaltered image, or when blurred, rotated, linearly stretched or converted to a photographic negative. All of the manipulations tested reduced correct naming of the composites overall except (i) for a low level of blur, for which naming improved for holistic composites but reduced for feature composites, and (ii) for 100% linear stretch, for which a substantial naming advantage was observed. Results also indicated that both featural (facial elements) and configural (feature spacing) information were useful for recognition in both types of composite system, but highly-detailed information was more accurate in the feature-based than in the holistic method. The naming advantage of linear stretch was replicated using a forensically more-practical procedure with observers viewing an unaltered composite sideways. The work is valuable to police practitioners and designers of facial-composite systems.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)215-227
Number of pages13
JournalScience and Justice
Issue number3
Early online date15 Dec 2013
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2014


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