Fiche biblio n° 3. La recherche scientifique sur les portraits-robots

31 juillet 2013 par Frank Arnould

Il y a soixante ans, un portrait-robot était utilisé pour la première fois en France pour tenter de résoudre une affaire criminelle. La recherche scientifique a depuis montré les limites de cette méthode. Cependant, des travaux sont actuellement en cours pour essayer d’en améliorer l’efficacité.

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C’est en Angleterre, en 1910, que le portrait-robot, sous la forme d’un croquis du criminel, est utilisé pour la première fois dans l’histoire judiciaire. Il a contribué à l’arrestation du Docteur Crippen, soupçonné du meurtre de son épouse, alors qu’il tentait de fuir son pays à bord d’un paquebot transatlantique.

En France, c’est au cours de l’enquête sur le meurtre d’Eugénie Bertrand, en 1953, que le portrait-robot fait sa première apparition. Son utilisation s’est d’ailleurs soldée par un échec. Les enquêteurs ont utilisé une technique conçue quelque temps plus tôt par Roger Dambron. L’inventeur avait découpé des photographies de personnes, l’assemblage des morceaux permettant ensuite de créer des visages nouveaux.

Malgré l’ancienneté de la méthode, la recherche scientifique sur les portraits-robots n’a véritablement démarré que dans le courant des années 1970 (voir la bibliographie ci-dessous). Un consensus s’est dégagé de ces travaux : dans leurs formes classiques (croquis d’artiste, systèmes mécaniques ou informatisés d’assemblage de traits faciaux), les portraits-robots produisent généralement des représentations peu fidèles des visages.

Comment expliquer ce résultat décevant ? Les chercheurs considèrent généralement que nous analysons les visages de manière globale (un mode de traitement dit configural ou holistique). Or, la méthode des portraits-robots impose aux témoins oculaires d’aborder les visages trait par trait. Ce mode de traitement serait donc incompatible avec la manière habituelle dont nous percevons et reconnaissons les visages.

Les chercheurs ne s’avouent toutefois pas vaincus et plusieurs équipes tentent d’améliorer la technique en suivant différentes pistes, comme l’ajout d’un entretien holistique (afin d’encourager le témoin à penser à la configuration globale du visage), le morphing de portraits-robots de témoins différents (qui produit une représentation plus fidèle d’un visage que les portraits-robots individuels de chaque témoin), ou encore le développement de logiciels évolutionnistes (dits aussi darwiniens) pour la construction de portraits-robots (EvoFIT, EFIT-V, ID…) reposant sur le principe du traitement holistique des visages.

À lire également sur PsychoTémoins :

Sous-rubrique Actualités de la recherche – Portraits-robots

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ben.gallagher
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Bibliographie

Sauf exception, n’ont été retenus que les articles publiés dans les revues scientifiques à comité de lecture.

Bleiman, F. (1978). Automatic comparison of criminal records photographic file with identikit and photofit pictures. International Criminal Police Review, 33(319), 182-183.

Brace, N. A., Pike, G. E., Allen, P., & Kemp, R. I. (2006). Identifying composites of famous faces : Investigating memory, language and system issues. Psychology, Crime & Law, 12(4), 351-366. doi:10.1080/10683160500151159

Brace, N., Pike, G., Kemp, R., Turner, J., & Bennett, P. (2006). Does the presentation of multiple facial composites improve suspect identification ? Applied Cognitive Psychology, 20(2), 213-226. doi:10.1002/acp.1181

Bruce, V., Ness, H., Hancock, P. J. B., Newman, C., & Rarity, J. (2002). Four heads are better than one : Combining face composites yields improvements in face likeness. Journal of Applied Psychology, 87(5), 894-902. doi:10.1037/0021-9010.87.5.894

Carlson, C. A., Gronlund, S. D., Weatherford, D. R., & Carlson, M. A. (2012). Processing differences between feature-based facial composites and photos of real faces. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 26(4), 525–540. doi:10.1002/acp.2824

Charman, S. D., Gregory, A. H., & Carlucci, M. (2009). Exploring the diagnostic utility of facial composites : Beliefs of guilt can bias perceived similarity between composite and suspect. Journal of Experimental Psychology : Applied, 15(1), 76-90. doi:10.1037/a0014682

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