The effect of image quality and forensic expertise in facial image comparisons

J Forensic Sci. 2015 Mar;60(2):331-40. doi: 10.1111/1556-4029.12660. Epub 2014 Dec 23.


Images of perpetrators in surveillance video footage are often used as evidence in court. In this study, identification accuracy was compared for forensic experts and untrained persons in facial image comparisons as well as the impact of image quality. Participants viewed thirty image pairs and were asked to rate the level of support garnered from their observations for concluding whether or not the two images showed the same person. Forensic experts reached their conclusions with significantly fewer errors than did untrained participants. They were also better than novices at determining when two high-quality images depicted the same person. Notably, lower image quality led to more careful conclusions by experts, but not for untrained participants. In summary, the untrained participants had more false negatives and false positives than experts, which in the latter case could lead to a higher risk of an innocent person being convicted for an untrained witness.

Keywords: CCTV; biometric identification; facial image comparison; forensic science; image quality; information science.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Biometric Identification
  • Face / anatomy & histology*
  • Forensic Sciences
  • Humans
  • Professional Competence*
  • Videotape Recording*