Checking ID-cards for the sale of restricted goods : age decisions bias face decisions

Robertson, David J. and Burton, A. Mike (2020) Checking ID-cards for the sale of restricted goods : age decisions bias face decisions. Applied Cognitive Psychology. ISSN 0888-4080 (

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Matching unfamiliar faces is highly error-prone, and most studies highlight the implications for real-world ID-checking. Here we study a particular instance of ID-checking: proof of age for buying restricted goods such as alcohol. In this case, checkers must establish that an identity document is carried by its legitimate owner (i.e., that the ID photo matches the face of the bearer) and that the ID proves the bearer to be old enough to make the purchase. Across three experiments, using two common forms of photo-ID (i.e., driving licenses, PASS+ cards) we show that observers produce very high error rates when age requirements are met, but faces mismatch. This bias away from detecting a face mismatch remained evident in experienced cashiers—though to a somewhat attenuated level. We discuss interactions between face matching and other tasks, and the practical consequences of a bias which favours those using photo-ID with fraudulent intent.