Describing and recognizing a face?

In the article, Improving the Quality of Facial Composites Using Holistic Cognitive Interview, by Frowd, Bruce, Smith & Hancock, 2008, Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, Vol. 14, No. 3, 276 - 287, they make some interesting comments about recall and recognition that I feel do not fit the norm in actual cognitive sketch interviews with actual eyewitnesses. They say that, "In fact, it has been demonstrated that the act of describing a face can itself interfere with the recognition of a face, a process that is sometimes referred to as the Verbal Overshadowing Effect (VOE)."  I have read the research on this VOE and I'll talk about that later in another post.  What I'd like to focus on is the task of describing a face and then recognizing a face -- and the so called interference that may be be present.  As a forensic artist (FA), I deal with this recall and recognition all of the time.

Let's look at the Standard Methodology and my Methodology and how they deal with recall and recognition.  In the Standard Methodology, FA's introduce a series of reference images to the eyewitness (EW) to stimulate recall in the features attributed to the suspect.  They are relying on their memory of the suspect's face and comparing the features in the facial catalog to make a selection.  You can say that there is some recognition as well.  The eyewitness is recognizing a feature in the catalog and then recalling the memory of the suspect's face to compare the two.  This back and forth process is compelling and can be very exhausting for the eyewitness.  The actual task of "describing the face" has not begun in the standard methodology.  The eyewitness is tasked with completing the selection of all of the features without the assistance of the FA.  Only after the FA receives the information from the facial ID sheet does the FA begin to sketch the face of the suspect.  Shortly after a few minutes of sketching does the FA show the EW the sketch.  In this phase of the interview the FA and EW collaborate in refining the sketch to meet the satisfaction of the EW.  The EW is confirming and referring to their memory in order to modify the sketch.  Each feature is reviewed and approved by the EW.  The fact that the EW is now confirming their confidence on the sketch likeness leaves me wondering where the article feels that recognizing the face has been hindered.

In my Compositure® methodology, as you know, I don't use reference images to stimulate the recall of the suspect's face.  Instead I use a method of relaxation and focused attention to bring about recall from the EW's memory through a guided script of questions.  As they answer each question I am sketching the details of their description and being mindful of the relationships of the features as they blend together on the face.  As we get to the final feature (the eyes), I have a very good idea of the look of this suspect and thus I can now monitor any drastic changes which may derail the essence of the sketch likeness.  In the final 5 minutes of this initial phase I ask the EW about the details of the encounter.  Specifically, I ask them to go back in their memory--about a few minutes before the encounter with the suspect, and then proceed through the details of the incident all the way through to the time police was called.  I use this time to add more content to the sketch and listen intently on any information that may help me to focus on a certain feature of the face.  I take into account the proximity of the encounter, lighting, familiarity with the environment, etc.  When the EW is done telling me about the incident, I prepare them to view the sketch for the first time.  I ask them to not reveal their impression of whether they think the sketch reminds them of the suspect or not---I ask them to hold their comments to the end of the interview.  I now ask them to review each feature with me and confirm the likeness to their memory. 

You can say that I'm participating in their recall and recognition of the sketch to their memory.  I have the statements of their recall of the features fresh in my mind and on the sketch before me.  As we go through each feature I can join with them as they confirm or adjust the feature as needed.  For example, if they were not as sure about the nose and now they make a slight adjustment--I can be confident that the adjustment was within an acceptable range (So they might say, I don't know it seemed like a normal nose. Then I sketch a nose that seems normal in size and shape to me. Now when they look at the nose on the sketch they want me to lengthen it and widen it slightly.  I can make the slight adjustment with the normal archetype in mind.  My experience in drawing a "normal" nose far out-ways any additional modifications the EW may ask -- if they want the nose lengthened any more than my experience tells me then I complete it, but I make a mental note of this change and report this to the detective as a concern for unreliability). This information is highly advanced and I could spend a weekend talking about the reliability of EW sketch interviews. More in future posts.