Why You Should Smile in Your Passport Photo

Jun 22, 2018

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You might want to flash a smile in your next passport photo, according to a new study.

The University of York has found that smiling in your passport photo could potentially thwart identity fraud. Their researches studied ways to better identify people through photos — an important issue for authorities trying to identify fake or forged passports. The study found that some people had difficulty identifying people when their facial expression was neutral, and that it was easier to match photos where the individual was smiling in both pictures. 

“Photo ID is a significant part of our lives and yet we know that the human brain has a hard time matching photos of people to other photos and matching photos with the real-life person,” said Dr. Mila Mileva of York’s psychology department. “Identity fraud is a real problem on many levels, so it is important that we do more research in this area to see how we can improve methods of identification.”

The study contained a series of three tests. In one, participants were asked to match neutral facial expressions, similar to a passport photo, with a photo of the same person smiling.

The second required them to match a neutral face with people smiling, but showing no teeth. The third had participants matching photos where only the lower half of the person’s face was visible.

The results of all three studies showed that the open-mouthed smiles were matched at the highest rates.

“Our research suggests that replacing the neutral expression we usually use when taking identification photographs with an open mouth smile can make face matching an easier decision,” Dr Mileva said. “As soon as there’s a mismatch in emotional expression — comparing a smiling and a neutral image for example — the matching accuracy drops substantially.”

The researchers suggested that smiling pictures could help immigration agents at passport checks, and potentially reduce identity fraud.

Just because it could help prevent fraud doesn’t mean you should share an ear-to-ear grin in your next ID photo. You’ll want to make sure it’s one of the State Department-approved expressions.

“You must have a neutral facial expression or a natural smile, with both eyes open,” the State Department’s website states. Here’s what a “natural” smile looks, according to the State Department:


And here’s its version of an unnatural smile:

H/T: The Independent 

Featured image by BSIP/UIG Via Getty Images.

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