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Chris Hadfield
Retired Canadian Astronaut & Author
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It takes very little to successfully disguise yourself

A new study finds even simple, easy, appearance alterations fool people

It takes very little to successfully disguise yourself
(Getty Images/Big Think)
  • We're not as good at facial recognition as you might think.
  • Who needs Mission Impossible latex masks?
  • You can change your hair or make up and pass for someone else.

Maybe Lois Lane wasn't so stupid after all. A brilliant reporter, yes, but of all the implausibilities of the Superman story, her inability to tell that Clark Kent and Superman were the same person thanks to a pair of glasses strained credulity. Now, though, a study's been published in APA PsycNET that shows it's amazingly easy to hide one's identity with even the simplest of disguises.

Who's who?

Cognitive psychologist Eilidh Noyes of University of Huddersfield in the U.K. co-authored the study with Rob Jenkins of the University of York. They recruited 26 models who were photographed three times:

  • As themselves
  • In a self-designed disguise meant to change their appearance — the study referred to the goal of these disguises as "evasion."
  • Posing as another one of the volunteers, these were "impersonation" disguises.

The means participants were provided to change their appearances were hardly very clever: They could change their hairstyle and/or makeup, or add or remove facial hair. They were not allowed to change their look with articles of clothing likes hats, scarves, or any other garb that wouldn't be allowed in a passport picture.

Noyes tells University of Huddersfield News, "Our models used inexpensive simple disguises and there were no make-up artists involved. If people want to, it's very easy to change their appearance."

Other study participants were then asked to identify the person in each photo. For the evasion images, 30 percent of them got it wrong, even when they knew they were looking at people who might be in disguise. The impersonation pix weren't as successful at fooling people.

At the conclusion of the study, all of the images were collected into a database called "FAÇADE" that's being offered to programmers and researchers developing facial recognition software.

“You look familiar.”

Battisti nabbed

(ALBERTO PIZZOLI/AFP/Getty Images)

Apparently, the researchers have documented something criminals already know. Alleged murderer Cesare Battisti successfully evaded capture for 37 years

Using simple disguises and hiding often in plain sight. He was finally captured this year. Brazilian police published a rogue's gallery of his likely appearance prior to his arrest. (The third one in the top row was closest to his appearance at the time of arrest.)

Sorry, Lois

About our intrepid Daily Planet reporter, however: Apparently participants who knew the subjects were less likely to be fooled, so she's not quite off the hook.

Take your career to the next level by raising your EQ

Emotional intelligence is a skill sought by many employers. Here's how to raise yours.

Gear
  • Daniel Goleman's 1995 book Emotional Intelligence catapulted the term into widespread use in the business world.
  • One study found that EQ (emotional intelligence) is the top predictor of performance and accounts for 58% of success across all job types.
  • EQ has been found to increase annual pay by around $29,000 and be present in 90% of top performers.
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Google’s Sycamore beats top supercomputer to achieve ‘quantum supremacy’

The achievement is an important milestone in quantum computing, Google's scientists said.

Google
Technology & Innovation
  • Sycamore is a quantum computer that Google has spent years developing.
  • Like traditional computers, quantum computers produce binary code, but they do so while utilizing unique phenomena of quantum mechanics.
  • It will likely be years before quantum computing has applications in everyday technology, but the recent achievement is an important proof of concept.
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Face mask study reveals worst material for blocking COVID-19

A study published Friday tested how well 14 commonly available face masks blocked the emission of respiratory droplets as people were speaking.

Fischer et al.
Coronavirus
  • The study tested the efficacy of popular types of face masks, including N95 respirators, bandanas, cotton-polypropylene masks, gaiters, and others.
  • The results showed that N95 respirators were most effective, while wearing a neck fleece (aka gaiter) actually produced more respiratory droplets than wearing no mask at all.
  • Certain types of homemade masks seem to be effective at blocking the spread of COVID-19.
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You want to stop child abuse? Here's how you can actually help.

Sharing QAnon disinformation is harming the children devotees purport to help.

Photo: Atjanan Charoensiri / Shutterstock
Politics & Current Affairs
  • The conspiracy theory, QAnon, is doing more harm than good in the battle to end child trafficking.
  • Foster youth expert, Regan Williams, says there are 25-29k missing children every year, not 800k, as marketed by QAnon.
  • Real ways to help abused children include donating to nonprofits, taking educational workshops, and becoming a foster parent.
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Strange Maps

Here’s a map of Mars with as much water as Earth

A 71% wet Mars would have two major land masses and one giant 'Medimartian Sea.'

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