Why smiling for a passport photo could prevent identity fraud

Sarah Knapton
People find it far easier to identify photographs when the person is smiling - PA

 

Travellers should be encouraged to smile on their passports to prevent identity fraud, a new study suggests.

Previous research at the University of York showed that it is difficult for people to match a pair of unfamiliar faces in photographs, which presents significant issues for authorities trying to spot false passports. 

To improve accuracy rates, the university’s Department of Psychology, looked into the possibility that a smiling image of a person could be more easily matched to a different image of that same individual, as well as more easily distinguished from an image of a similar- looking identity.

The team asked 40 people to match 60 unfamiliar pairs of images when people's facial expressions were netural, such as is asked for in passport photos and smiling. 

Smiling makes it easier to match people to their images Credit: University of York

Analysis of the results from study one found a 9 per cent improvement in performance for smiling images when comparing two images of the same person and a 7 per cent improvement when comparing images of two different, but similarly looking, people.

Research leader Dr Mila Mileva said: “Our research suggests that replacing the neutral expression we usually use when taking identification photographs with an open mouth smile, can make face matching an easier decision.

“We also had success in showing that an open mouth smile can help people to tell two similarly looking, but different people apart which is critical when checking photo identification.

"Identity fraud is a real problem on many levels, so it is important that we do more research in this area to see how we can improve methods of identification.”

The research is published in the British Journal of Psychology.