Can people identify original and manipulated photos of real-world scenes?

Sophie Nightingale, Kimberley Wade, Derrick Watson

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Advances in digital technology mean that the creation of visually compelling photographic fakes is growing at an incredible speed. The prevalence of manipulated photos in our everyday lives invites an important, yet largely unanswered, question: Can people detect photo forgeries? Previous research using simple computer-generated stimuli suggests people are poor at detecting geometrical inconsistencies within a scene. We do not know, however, whether such limitations also apply to real-world scenes that contain common properties that the human visual system is attuned to processing. In two experiments we asked people to detect and locate manipulations within images of real-world scenes. Subjects demonstrated a limited ability to detect original and manipulated images. Furthermore, across both experiments, even when subjects correctly detected manipulated images, they were often unable to locate the manipulation. People’s ability to detect manipulated images was positively correlated with the extent of disruption to the underlying structure of the pixels in the photo. We also explored whether manipulation type and individual differences were associated with people’s ability to identify manipulations. Taken together, our findings show, for the first time, that people have poor ability to identify whether a real-world image is original or has been manipulated. The results have implications for professionals working with digital images in legal, media, and other domains.
Original languageEnglish
Article number30
Pages (from-to)1-21
Number of pages21
JournalCognitive Research: Principles and Implications
Publication statusPublished - 18 Jul 2017

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