Face recognition in poor-quality video: Evidence from Security Surveillance

A. Mike Burton*, Stephen Wilson, Michelle Cowan, Vicki Bruce

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

467 Citations (Scopus)


Security surveillance systems often produce poor-quality video, and this may be problematic in gathering forensic evidence. We examined the ability of subjects to identify target people captured by a commercially available video security device. In Experiment 1, subjects personally familiar with the targets performed very well at identifying them, but subjects unfamiliar with the targets performed very poorly. Police officers with experience in forensic identification performed as poorly as other subjects unfamiliar with the targets. In Experiment 2, we asked how familiar subjects can perform so well. Using the same video device, we edited clips to obscure the head, body, or gait of the targets. Obscuring body or gait produced a small decrement in recognition performance. Obscuring the targets' heads had a dramatic effect on subjects' ability to recognize the targets. These results imply that subjects recognized the targets 'faces, even in these poor-quality images.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)243-248
Number of pages6
JournalPsychological Science
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - May 1999
Externally publishedYes


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