How are police sketch artists so accurate?

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I don’t understand how police sketch artists are so accurate from a person’s description. To be honest, I feel like I couldn’t adequately describe my best friend’s physical appearance well enough for a sketch artist to draw it.

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12 Answers

Anonymous 0 Comments

The big core thing is that sketch artists aren’t doing it the same way that e.g. an AI would do it. It’s actually [not all just](https://people.howstuffworks.com/police-sketch.htm) from verbal description, it’s a back-and-forth between the artist and the witness where the witness can point out specific discrepancies in the drawing. Also, it’s not actually all that accurate.

Anonymous 0 Comments

1. You are probably overestimating the accuracy.

2. They are trained to ask you the right questions. For example, the question isn’t “how is the shape of their beard?” But “which of these 500 beards (sorted into categories) fits best to the person?”

Anonymous 0 Comments

You don’t have to describe it perfectly all at once. Typically the sketch artist will show the witness a bunch of options for noses, eyes, mouths, etc. and put them together into a composite sketch – in the old days, that would be done by hand, nowadays it’s often done with computers.

Then the witness will look at the composite and will likely say something like “actually, the nose is a little bigger than that,” or “no, his eyebrows aren’t quite right,” and they’ll modify it as necessary.

So even if you couldn’t describe your best friend well enough to get a perfect sketch, with a couple of adjustments as you go, you’ll likely end up with a fairly close likeness of your friend by the time the process is over. Same goes with police sketches – in some cases, they can get scarily accurate.

Anonymous 0 Comments

1. You are probably overestimating the accuracy.

2. They are trained to ask you the right questions. For example, the question isn’t “how is the shape of their beard?” But “which of these 500 beards (sorted into categories) fits best to the person?”

Anonymous 0 Comments

The big core thing is that sketch artists aren’t doing it the same way that e.g. an AI would do it. It’s actually [not all just](https://people.howstuffworks.com/police-sketch.htm) from verbal description, it’s a back-and-forth between the artist and the witness where the witness can point out specific discrepancies in the drawing. Also, it’s not actually all that accurate.

Anonymous 0 Comments

1. You are probably overestimating the accuracy.

2. They are trained to ask you the right questions. For example, the question isn’t “how is the shape of their beard?” But “which of these 500 beards (sorted into categories) fits best to the person?”

Anonymous 0 Comments

You don’t have to describe it perfectly all at once. Typically the sketch artist will show the witness a bunch of options for noses, eyes, mouths, etc. and put them together into a composite sketch – in the old days, that would be done by hand, nowadays it’s often done with computers.

Then the witness will look at the composite and will likely say something like “actually, the nose is a little bigger than that,” or “no, his eyebrows aren’t quite right,” and they’ll modify it as necessary.

So even if you couldn’t describe your best friend well enough to get a perfect sketch, with a couple of adjustments as you go, you’ll likely end up with a fairly close likeness of your friend by the time the process is over. Same goes with police sketches – in some cases, they can get scarily accurate.

Anonymous 0 Comments

You don’t have to describe it perfectly all at once. Typically the sketch artist will show the witness a bunch of options for noses, eyes, mouths, etc. and put them together into a composite sketch – in the old days, that would be done by hand, nowadays it’s often done with computers.

Then the witness will look at the composite and will likely say something like “actually, the nose is a little bigger than that,” or “no, his eyebrows aren’t quite right,” and they’ll modify it as necessary.

So even if you couldn’t describe your best friend well enough to get a perfect sketch, with a couple of adjustments as you go, you’ll likely end up with a fairly close likeness of your friend by the time the process is over. Same goes with police sketches – in some cases, they can get scarily accurate.

Anonymous 0 Comments

The big core thing is that sketch artists aren’t doing it the same way that e.g. an AI would do it. It’s actually [not all just](https://people.howstuffworks.com/police-sketch.htm) from verbal description, it’s a back-and-forth between the artist and the witness where the witness can point out specific discrepancies in the drawing. Also, it’s not actually all that accurate.

Anonymous 0 Comments

Here is a thing about drawing faces. Reality is that only very few parts actaully matter, and there is only a specific amount of general variation between them. I used to have a book with the most common variations and names for them. You only need specific features to make people see the connection. Generally these are:

* General face type (round, square, heavy, chubby)
* Nose size and general type (long, “greek”, small, wide)
* Eye shape (Almond, monolid…)

These are enough for humans regocnise a face. I’m sure that you have experienced this yourself. You have regocnised your friend in a crowd further away, than you would be able to see the features of their face. And I’m sure you have also seen someone who you are sure was your father or smth, but isn’t them. Even if they look almost exactly like your father.

However… Sketches are only good if you are describing someone you actually properly know what they look like. Eyewitness testimonies for random people in quick stressful events are basically unreliable. To make them reliable, you actually need to be very specific how you ask the questions. There is a whole science to this, and generally cops don’t have the training needed for this – so consultants who know the psychology behind memory are needed to guide the situation or do the questioning. Because human memory is tricky, it wants to be sure about things, if it isn’t sure and you happen to give the slightest inspiration to come up with something to make the memory coherent, it will do that and overwrite whatever there was before. This has been tested, and it is quite alarming. It was like near 50% of people, could be convinced that they have commited a crime, they have never ever done, by asking them to remember such thing and then filling in the gaps.