Travellers normally only get a once-a-decade chance to pull their most straight-faced pose for passport photos, and many are disappointed with the results.
Now, scientific research has shown that our passport poker faces, where holidaymakers are not permitted to smile, don’t even bear a passing resemblance to our more relaxed selves.
The findings from a study conducted at Glasgow University revealed that people’s attempts to look serious for passport snaps end up skewing their facial features, resulting in a shot that barely mirrors their true appearance.
Comparing a range of photos from individuals, researchers found that people could look “strikingly different” from picture to picture, with some people struggling to recognise that they were all of the same person.
In 2006, biometric passports were introduced which used information about a passport holder’s face, such as distances between their eyes, nose, mouth and ears, to correctly identify them.
This requires travellers to pose “with a neutral expression and your mouth closed” with “no grinning, frowning or raised eyebrows” allowed.
The findings from the research points to the fact that photographs may not be as credible a method for identification as originally thought.
A series of experiments showed that making subtle alterations to a face can lead people to believe that photos are of different individuals. The only exclusion was with well-known faces, such as those of celebrities.
“We are told not to smile in our passport photos as a smile distorts the face; but the opposite may actually be true, and a poker face may be the one which distorts normal facial features,” said Dr Rob Jenkins, who led the study.
“We have discovered a new dimension to the field of face recognition. The experiments showed that faces and facial photographs cannot be considered to be representative of each other.”