Improving a Tool to Identify Missing Children

Released: 5-Mar-2012 12:05 AM EST
Source Newsroom: University of Arkansas, Fayetteville
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NSF-funded research to examine effectiveness in age-progressed photos

Newswise — FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – The National Science Foundation has awarded $300,587 to University of Arkansas psychology professor James M. Lampinen and colleague Charles D. Frowd to learn more about age progression as a tool in the search for missing children.

In about one-third of the long-term cases of missing children, investigators use photos that have been altered to suggest how a child may have aged, although making an accurate prediction about the appearance of an individual child is difficult. Despite its widespread use, little scientific research exists on the effect of age progression on recognition memory for missing children, according to the researchers.

“The proposed research is one of the first systematic attempts to understand the factors that impact the success of forensic age progression. Knowing more about the factors that lead to successful age progressions will allow practitioners to create more accurate estimates of the appearance of missing children, resulting in an improved likelihood of recovering missing children,” the researchers wrote.

Over a three-year period, the NSF-funded research will take theory-based questions into a carefully controlled laboratory environment, which will mimic real-world searches for missing children. For example, the researchers wrote, the research will examine one suggestion that “presenting multiple age progressed images can produce recognition that is superior to presenting a single age progressed image.”

In 2008, Lampinen led one of the first laboratory studies to test the effectiveness of age-progressed photographs. He, Jack D. Arnal and Jason L. Hicks found that age-progressed photos did not improve recognition of children’s faces. However, there were some hopeful findings that raised questions for ongoing study.

“In the situations tested, people were able to spot the child’s face at a rate better than chance, with or without seeing the age progression photos,” Lampinen said. “This suggested that people have an intuition about age progression.”

Lampinen is an associate professor of psychology in the J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Arkansas. Frowd is a senior lecturer in psychology at the University of Central Lancashire in Great Britain.

Lampinen’s earlier research on age-progressed photos appeared in the journals Applied Cognitive Psychology and Psychology, Crime and Law. Arnal earned his doctorate in psychology from the University of Arkansas in 2008. Hicks is an associate professor of psychology at Louisiana State University.


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