Do intoxicated witnesses produce poor facial composite images?

Sarah Bayless, Alistair Harvey, Wendy Kneller, Charlie Frowd

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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Rationale - The effect of alcohol intoxication on witness memory and performance has been the subject of research for some time, however, whether intoxication affects facial composite construction has not been investigated.

Objectives - Intoxication was predicted to adversely affect facial composite construction.

Methods - Thirty-two participants were allocated to one of four beverage conditions consisting of factorial combinations of alcohol or placebo at face encoding, and later construction. Participants viewed a video of a target person and constructed a composite of this target the following day. The resulting images were presented as a full-face composite, or a part-face consisting of either internal, or external facial features to a second sample of participants who provided likeness ratings as a measure of facial composite quality.

Results - Intoxication at face encoding had a detrimental impact on the quality of facial composites produced the following day, suggesting that alcohol impaired the encoding of the target faces. The common finding that external compared to internal features are more accurately represented was demonstrated, even following alcohol at encoding. This finding was moderated by alcohol and target face gender such that alcohol at face encoding resulted in reduced likeness of external features for male composite faces only.

Conclusions - Moderate alcohol intoxication impairs the quality of facial composites, adding to existing literature demonstrating little effect of alcohol on line-up studies. The impact of intoxication on face perception mechanisms, and the apparent narrowing of processing to external face areas such as hair, is discussed in the context of alcohol myopia theory.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2991-3003
Number of pages13
Issue number10
Early online date17 Aug 2018
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2018


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