Activity: Talk or presentation types › Invited talk
Alcohol has been known to compromise many cognitive processes, including aspects of memory. However, evidence from line-up studies suggests that face recognition is not significantly impaired by moderate levels of intoxication. This is despite evidence that alcohol does affect face processing, for instance in judgements of attractiveness (the beer goggles effect), interpretations of emotional expression and behavioural intent, as well as altered scan paths during face viewing. Facial composite construction is an important forensic method of identifying suspects in situations where a line-up is not possible. Despite this, no previous research has addressed whether alcohol compromises the quality of facial composites. Composite construction involves recall from memory, while the process of line-up identification relies heavily on recognition. In basic memory research alcohol seems to have a more pronounced effect on recall than recognition, so we predicted that facial composite construction may be more sensitive to the effects of alcohol than line-up identification is. To investigate this prediction, we presented 32 witness participants with one of eight different target faces. Participants were randomly allocated to one of four alcohol treatment conditions which were factorial combinations of alcohol or placebo at face encoding and later composite construction (recall). The resulting facial composite images were evaluated by a second group of participants who rated either the full face, the internal or external face features respectively. As expected, alcohol at face encoding had a detrimental effect on composite quality. External face features (e.g. hair) were generally represented more accurately than internal features. However, alcohol at encoding did impair the quality of external facial features for male target faces only. We discuss the salience of the external and internal facial features in unfamiliar face learning under alcohol, drawing upon previous empirical evidence. Some ideas for future research are outlined.