Matching face images raken on the same day or months apart: The limitations of photo ID

Ahmed M. Megreya, Adam Sandford, A. Mike Burton*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

87 Citations (Scopus)
75 Downloads (Pure)


It is well-established that matching images of unfamiliar faces is rather error prone. However, there is an important mismatch between face matching in laboratory and realistic settings. All of the currently available face-matching databases were designed to establish the baseline level of unfamiliar face perception. Therefore, target and test images for each face identity have been taken on the same day, minimizing within-face variations. In realistic settings, on the other hand, faces do vary, even day to day. This study examined the proficiency of matching images of unfamiliar faces, which were taken on the same day or months apart. In two experiments, same-day images were matched substantially more accurately and faster than different-date photographs using the standard 1-in-10 and pairwise face-matching tasks. This suggests that experimental studies on face matching underestimate its difficulty in real-world situations. Photographs of unfamiliar faces seem to be unreliable proofs of identity, especially if the ID documents do not use very recent images of the holders.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)700-706
Number of pages7
JournalApplied Cognitive Psychology
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2013
Externally publishedYes


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