Children making faces: enhancing children's facial recall and composite construction

Paine, Carina Bridget (2005). Children making faces: enhancing children's facial recall and composite construction. PhD thesis The Open University.



When the identity of an offender is unknown in a criminal investigation witnesses are often asked to produce a verbal description and/or a facial 'composite' image of the suspect's face with a police operator. The aims of the research presented in this thesis were (1) to gain an understanding of children's verbal descriptions of unfamiliar faces, and (2) to explore how children might be assisted through appropriate interview techniques to provide computerised facial composite constructions of unfamiliar faces. The thesis involved an innovative synthesis of developmental, eyewitness, facial recognition and facial recall research in order to address these aims. The thesis comprised four studies as follows:

Study 1 involved a questionnaire survey of facial composite operators in the UK to identify their current practice with, and experiences and opinions of, child witnesses. Analyses of the data indicated two main issues facing operators when interviewing child witnesses: (1) children's language (problems describing andlor understanding); and (2) children's lack of concentration. The results of this survey and existing research informed a series of laboratory-based experimental studies with children aged 6-, 8- and 10-years.

Study 2 (Experiments 1 and 2) explored, for the first time in the existing literature, the language and terms children use to describe unfamiliar faces. The findings showed that from the age of 6-years, children were able to effectively describe unfamiliar faces when prompted (in terms of the content and quantity of descriptions useful for subsequent composite construction). The descriptions provided were used to produce original sets of developmentally appropriate verbal and visual prompts.

Study 3 (Experiments 3 and 4) investigated the effect of the verbal and visual prompts as potentially appropriate interview techniques on the production of children's descriptions of unfamiliar faces. Results suggested that the visual prompts significantly enhanced children's descriptions of unfamiliar faces, in terms of increasing the number and accuracy of descriptions, and reducing the time taken.

Study 4 (Experiments 5 through 7) explored the use of the prompts as potentially appropriate interview techniques to assist children's composite constructions of unfamiliar faces with the computerised composite system E-FIT. The quality of the composites constructed was evaluated using subjective likeness rankings and ratings, as well as an objective utility measure. Results demonstrated that children from the age of 6-years were able to produce facial composites of an unfamiliar face. Although results showed that composite construction drew on developmentally sensitive skills, there were large variations within age groups and composites produced by adults and older children were not always evaluated as better than younger children's.

Collectively the findings from the thesis are encouraging, indicating that children should not be excluded from providing facial descriptions and constructing facial composites simply on the basis of their age.

Finally, the theoretical contributions and practical implications of the findings are discussed.

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