Finding the Missing: Effects of Perceptual and Conceptual Information in Missing Person Appeals

Lead Research Organisation: University of Portsmouth
Department Name: Psychology


This project aims to help missing people investigations by examining ways of improving public's memory for missing individuals. We aim to evaluate the effects of different types of information presented along an unfamiliar face on person memory, to use these findings to create an improved missing person appeal, and to test the effectiveness of this appeal during a virtual reality game.
Despite the low coverage of this issue in both academic research and the media, national statistics show that in the UK someone is recorded as missing every two minutes, and two-thirds of the missing people are under 18 years of age (National Policing Improvement Agency, 2011). One of the most common ways of trying to locate missing people is the creation and distribution of missing person appeals in the format of posters.
The first study will aim to establish what type of conceptual information, such as occupation or psychological traits, associated with the image of an unfamiliar individual is most beneficial for face recognition.
The second study will aim to compare the roles of high-variability perceptual information (e.g. multiple photographs of the same individual, taken in different contexts) and conceptual information and to assess their combined effect on the process of learning to recognize unfamiliar faces.
The last study will aim to assist missing people investigations by incorporating the findings of the first two studies into the creation of an improved version of a missing person appeal and testing its effectiveness during a virtual reality game.


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
ES/P000673/1 30/09/2017 29/09/2027
1956663 Studentship ES/P000673/1 30/09/2017 30/08/2021 Stefana Juncu
Description When someone goes missing, the police or their family release missing person appeals asking the public to be on the lookout and report any encounters with the missing person. This process is based on prospective person memory. We manipulated the type of information presented in an appeal and observed its effects on prospective person memory accuracy. Including multiple photographs of the missing person from a variety of contexts (e.g., different days, different hairstyles, different events) improves ones' ability to recognize that missing person later on. Including names alongside their pictures further improves memory performance.
Exploitation Route This projects informs researchers about potential ways of improving prospective person memory. It also provides practical advice for practitioners working on missing person investigations.
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy,Security and Diplomacy,Other

Description During the last year I was part of a team who evaluated the use of Child Rescue Alerts. I was there to both analyse their success as well as provide feedback based on my PhD research studies.
First Year Of Impact 2019
Sector Security and Diplomacy
Impact Types Policy & public services