Understanding the document bias in face matching

Xinran Feng, A. Mike Burton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)
32 Downloads (Pure)


Matching unfamiliar faces is a well-studied task, apparently capturing important everyday decisions such as ID checks. In typical laboratory studies, participants make same/different judgements to pairs of faces, presented in isolation and without context. However, it has recently become clear that matching faces embedded in documents (e.g., passports and driving licences) induces a bias, resulting in elevated levels of “same person” responses. While practically important, it remains unclear whether this bias arises due to expectations induced by the ID cards or interference between textual information and faces. Here, we observe the same bias when faces are embedded in blank (i.e., non-authoritative) cards carrying basic personal information, but not when the same information is presented alongside a face without the card (Experiments 1 and 2). Cards bearing unreadable text (blurred or in an unfamiliar alphabet) do not induce the bias, but those bearing arbitrary (non-biographical) words do (Experiments 3 and 4). The results suggest a complex basis for the effect, relying on multiple factors which happen to converge in photo-ID.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2019-2029
Number of pages11
JournalThe Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2021
Externally publishedYes


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