Background: Infants and children travel using passports that are typically valid for five years (e.g. Canada, United Kingdom, United States and Australia). These individuals may also need to be identified using images taken from videos and other sources in forensic situations including child exploitation cases. However, few researchers have examined how useful these images are as a means of identification.
Methods: We investigated the effectiveness of photo identification for infants and children using a face matching task, where participants were presented with two images simultaneously and asked whether the images depicted the same child or two different children. In Experiment 1, both images showed an infant (<1 year old), whereas in Experiment 2, one image again showed an infant but the second image of the child was taken at 4–5 years of age. In Experiments 3a and 3b, we asked participants to complete shortened versions of both these tasks (selecting the most difficult trials) as well as the short version Glasgow face matching test. Finally, in Experiment 4, we investigated whether information regarding the sex of the infants and children could be accurately perceived from the images.
Results: In Experiment 1, we found low levels of performance (72% accuracy) for matching two infant photos. For Experiment 2, performance was lower still (64% accuracy) when infant and child images were presented, given the significant changes in appearance that occur over the first five years of life. In Experiments 3a and 3b, when participants completed both these tasks, as well as a measure of adult face matching ability, we found lowest performance for the two infant tasks, along with mixed evidence of within-person correlations in sensitivities across all three tasks. The use of only same-sex pairings on mismatch trials, in comparison with random pairings, had little effect on performance measures. In Experiment 4, accuracy when judging the sex of infants was at chance levels for one image set and above chance (although still low) for the other set. As expected, participants were able to judge the sex of children (aged 4–5) from their faces.
Discussion: Identity matching with infant and child images resulted in low levels of performance, which were significantly worse than for an adult face matching task. Taken together, the results of the experiments presented here provide evidence that child facial photographs are ineffective for use in real-world identification.