Checking ID-cards for the sale of restricted goods: Age decisions bias face decisions

David J. Robertson*, A. Mike Burton

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)
44 Downloads (Pure)


Matching unfamiliar faces is highly error-prone, and most studies highlight the implications for real-world ID-checking. Here we study a particular instance of ID-checking: proof of age for buying restricted goods such as alcohol. In this case, checkers must establish that an identity document is carried by its legitimate owner (i.e., that the ID photo matches the face of the bearer) and that the ID proves the bearer to be old enough to make the purchase. Across three experiments, using two common forms of photo-ID (i.e., driving licenses, PASS+ cards) we show that observers produce very high error rates when age requirements are met, but faces mismatch. This bias away from detecting a face mismatch remained evident in experienced cashiers—though to a somewhat attenuated level. We discuss interactions between face matching and other tasks, and the practical consequences of a bias which favours those using photo-ID with fraudulent intent.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)71-81
Number of pages11
JournalApplied Cognitive Psychology
Issue number1
Early online date3 Sept 2020
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2021
Externally publishedYes


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