Have 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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