General
05 Apr 2011

Would you make a good eyewitness? Have a go with the OU's new PhotoFit app

Test your eyewitness skills with the PhotoFit Me app

Test your eyewitness skills with the PhotoFit Me app

We’re all familiar with the photo ‘reconstructions’ of offenders’ faces, created and publicised in the hope a member of the public will recognise the perpetrator and lead to a break in the case. Yet just how easy is it to recreate a stranger’s face from memory?

The Open University has developed a free online and iPhone/iPad application designed to challenge people to construct a photofit. Using PhotoFit Me, members of the public can attempt to recreate the faces of friends, family, celebrities or strangers. With access to over 370 separate facial options – including eyes, ears, glasses and facial hair – more than 174 billion different faces are possible. The resulting photofits can be shared via FaceBook, Twitter, and by email.

Graham Pike, Professor of Forensic Psychology at The Open University, works with the police to develop more intuitive ways of helping witnesses to produce accurate images of criminal suspects and has been involved in the development of the app. He said: “The challenge with Photofit is that we do not recognise faces feature by feature. Instead we remember the whole face and therefore find it difficult to construct faces one feature at a time.

“This is a problem experienced by all eyewitnesses. Not only do you have to try to picture the face of the perpetrator in your mind, but you also have to translate this visual image into a verbal description. Both of these actions are very hard to do, which is why systems such as PhotoFIT and E-FIT were developed. These enable witnesses to construct a picture of the perpetrator’s face visually, by searching through albums of individual features and then putting these together to form a whole face.

“The psychology of facial recognition can be surprising and has wider implications in the areas of criminology and law as it has led to many miscarriages of justice. We hope this app will encourage people to experience the challenges of constructing a face from memory, and do so in a fun way.”

PhotoFit Me is available to use online at www.openuniversity.co.uk/photofit and will be available to download for free for use on iPhones and iPads via the Apple Store imminently.

Photofits, and the psychology behind them, are touched on in a range of Open University courses, including DSE141 Discovering Psychology Y163 Starting with Psychology, DD101 Introducing the Social Sciences, W100 An Introduction to Law: Rules, Rights and Justice, DSE212 Exploring Psychology, B48 BA/BSc (HONS) Criminology and Psychological Studies and B07 BSc (HONS) Psychology. For more information on any of the OU’s courses, go to www.open.ac.uk/study or call 0845 300 60 90.

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