Background: We present a series of experiments on visual search in a highly complex environment, security closed-circuit television (CCTV). Using real surveillance footage from a large city transport hub, we ask viewers to search for target individuals. Search targets are presented in a number of ways, using naturally occurring images including their passports and photo ID, social media and custody images/videos. Our aim is to establish general principles for search efficiency within this realistic context.
Results: Across four studies we find that providing multiple photos of the search target consistently improves performance. Three different photos of the target, taken at different times, give substantial performance improvements by comparison to a single target. By contrast, providing targets in moving videos or with biographical context does not lead to improvements in search accuracy.
Conclusions: We discuss the multiple-image advantage in relation to a growing understanding of the importance of within-person variability in face recognition.