To catch a thief with a recognition test: The model and some empirical results

Sam S. Rakover, Baruch Cahlon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The purpose of the present paper is to describe a new technique and a mathematical model-called the "Catch model"-for identifying a face previously seen (i.e., the target face). Both the technique and the model were developed on the basis of the general approach of information processing used with respect to human memory. Subjects were presented with a pair of test faces on each trial. Neither of the test faces was the target face. Their task was to choose from the two test faces the one most similar to the target face. The data furnished by the subjects were used to reconstruct the target face in the following way: At each trial the differentiating values, such as a long nose and blue eyes, of the test face chosen by the subject were recorded. These values were the ones that accounted for the difference between the two test faces. Over the whole run of the test trials, the differentiating values were associated with various frequencies of occurrence. The target face was reconstructed by selecting the differentiating values having the highest frequency of occurrence. Only one differentiating value per facial dimension such as a nose and eyes could be selected. Thus, given that the facial dimension of the nose has three different values consisting of the long, short, and wide varieties of nose, the value chosen would be the one associated with the highest frequency of occurrence. Mathematical derivations show that, given different variations of the proposed technique, the target face will be detected. These derivations were supported by the results of three experiments.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)423-468
Number of pages46
JournalCognitive Psychology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 1989

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Experiments 1 and 2 reported in this paper were conducted at Oakland University, Rochester, MI, when the first author was on sabbatical in 1979. Experiment 3 was conducted at Haifa University and funded by the University’s Faculty of the Social Sciences and Research Authority. The authors are very grateful to Simcha F. Landua, Director of the Institute of Criminology of the Hebrew University at Jerusalem, for making available to us Penry’s PhotoFit Kit. Special thanks go to David Budescu, Itamar Gati, David Navon, and Asher Koriat, who read an earlier version of the manuscript and made helpful suggestions. Requests for reprints should be addressed to Sam S. Rakover, Department of Psychology, Haifa University, Mt. Carmel, Haifa 31 999, Israel.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Artificial Intelligence


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