A study has suggested that humans rely on non-facial cues, such as body shape and build, to recognize people in difficult viewing conditions, like poor lighting.
Lead researcher Allyson Rice said that their results show that the body can also provide important and sometimes sufficient identity information for person recognition.
During several experiments, researchers asked college-age participants to look at images of two people side-by-side and identify whether the images showed the same person.
Some pairs looked similar despite showing different people, while other image pairs showed the same person with a different appearance.
The researchers used computer face recognition systems to find pairs of pictures in which facial characteristics were difficult to use for identity.
Overall, participants accurately discerned whether the images showed the same person when they were provided complete images that showed both the face and body.
Participants were just as accurate in identifying people in the image pairs when the faces were blocked out and only the bodies were shown.
But, similarly to the computer-based face recognition system, participants had trouble identifying images of the subjects' faces without their bodies.
Rice said that people's recognition strategies were inaccessible to their conscious awareness and this provides a cautionary tale in ascribing credibility to people's subjective reports of how they came to an identity decision.
The study has been published in Psychological Science.