Police Photos of Missing Children Are Too “Happy,” Researchers Say

By Nina Bai | October 31, 2008 10:26 am

missing childHave you seen this child—looking like this? A new study suggests authorities are using the wrong kind of photos to locate missing children. Parents of missing children are usually asked to provide a recent school photo, which typically show smiling, clean, and dressed-up children. But these photos don’t accurately depict the state of kidnapped children (which is what the average missing child would be), who usually look upset, tired, and unkempt.

Researchers at Mississippi State University asked 150 adults to look at photos of children, some in “clean” states and others in “dirty” states. (For the “dirty” states, the children were photographed with makeup to simulate dirt and bruises.) The adults were then shown another set of photos and asked if they recognized the children from the previous photos. People were better at recognizing children shown in similar states, and the advantage became more apparent when the researchers inserted a delay (10 minutes, 3 weeks, 6 weeks, or 12 weeks) between the two sets of photos. This means that even someone who has seen a picture of a missing child might easily overlook the same child on the street.

The researchers, who published their findings in Applied Cognitive Psychology, hope authorities and services such as AMBER alert will take their advice to heart, and start using more varied photos of missing children to increase their chances of being found.

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Image: iStockphoto

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Crime & Punishment
MORE ABOUT: crime, faces, psychology
  • http://childsearchpsychic.tripod.com Robert Lindblad

    Another method that can be used is that of Child Search which through psychic Robert Lindblad has saved lives of kidnapped children, found bodies as well as caught their kidnappers/murderers since 1991. To view, read, and listen to radio, documentary, newspaper, magazine and TV news interviews please visit the Child Search website at

  • Hale

    So we have predators that prey upon children and also predators that prey upon desperate parents. You have posted your website on every story pertaining to these horrible crimes; hoping to gain a little fame from the worst sort of crime.

  • Jackie

    Hale, You are so wrong, I can’t believe that you who are nothing and not trying to do anything for the world would through stones at a man who charges nothing and asks for nothing to try and help the world. People like you should get out and offer the world something for free that has nothing to do with with sex or booze or partying, like make sandwiches for the poor or volenteer some of your tie to the needy instead of putting down some one who does care about some one he does not know. I bet you are an atheist.


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