Face photographs unsuitable as proof of identity due to within-person variability?

This new journal paper raises some uncomfortable questions about the widespread and long-standing reliance on photographs as a means of identification of individuals for security purposes, and I guess also in legal systems. This paper also possibly has some implications for understanding The Strange Phenomenon, which is extraordinarily sensitive to the angle at which one face is viewed. The Strange Phenomenon only ever happened fully when I viewed John’s face* from around a 45 degree angle in natural light (outdoors), from before he gained a bit of weight. These were the exact conditions that triggered The Strange Phenomenon, which I believe is a neurologically-based sensory experience that is a hybrid of synaesthesia and face recognition. John’s face viewed from other angles didn’t trigger the effect, so it is as though my unconscious mind saw his face from one particular angle as a quite different “thing” than his face viewed from other angles, which seems to be in accord with this study’s finding that different photos of the same face can look like different faces. This also supports my observation that John’s face is a bit of an curiousity in that it takes on a very different character from profile compared to full-face, the front view looking quite young and innocent, while his profile looks a bit villanous and more masculine. If you wish to read about The Strange Phenomenon, take a look at the first post in this blog.

We still have so much to discover about a cognitive function as ordinary and taken-for-granted as face recognition. We have yet to fully comprehend how amazing our brains really are.

* Not his real name.

Rob Jenkins, David White, Xandra Van Montfort, A. Mike Burton Variability in photos of the same face. Cognition. Available online 3 September 2011. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0010027711002022

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