Volume 46, Issue 3 (May 2001)
Building Faces from Dry Skulls: Are They Recognized Above Chance Rates?
Methods of facial approximation have successfully aided the identification of deceased individuals. Successes may be due to either accurate facial approximation techniques or chance. This study aims to determine if any of 16 facial approximations, built using standard techniques, are sufficiently accurate to produce correct identifications of target individuals above chance. Four skulls were approximated using four commonly used methods of facial approximation. The resulting 16 facial approximations were judged by 37 assessors of varying ages. Assessors attempted to identify the target individual of each facial approximation from a face pool of ten photographed faces. Only one facial approximation resulted in true positive identification rates above chance at statistically significant levels. It is concluded that it is rare for facial approximations to be sufficiently accurate to allow identification of a target individual above chance. Since 403 incorrect identifications were made out of 592 identification scenarios, facial approximation should be considered to be a highly inaccurate and unreliable forensic technique. These results suggest that facial approximations are not very useful in excluding individuals to whom skeletal remains may not belong. Evidence from this experiment supports suggestions by others that facial approximation should be used in forensic science when all other methods of identification have failed and only to provide tentative identification.