Washington, June 15 : Posting photos of missing kids at supermarket exits is one way by which law enforcement agencies and foundations hope to reunite children and families, but a new research has revealed that few customers are able to identify the children's faces upon leaving the store.
Now, researchers at the University of Arkansas have offered suggestions for improving the memory of the customers. Although better methods of publicizing missing children are required, lead author James Michael Lampinen has suggested ways people can improve their chances of remembering the faces of missing children.
"I think we all get so wrapped up in our day-to-day lives that - even though we care about the problem of missing children - we often don't take the time to look at the photos of those kids and commit them to memory," Lampinen said.
"As researchers, we should start working on ways of improving people's attention to these posters," he added.
For the study, researchers surveyed 142 customers as they left a supermarket that posted photos of missing children.
The vast majority of respondents called the problem of missing children important or extremely important, yet more than 70 percent did not look at the posters at all, and another 20 percent only looked briefly.
"Customers at this store displayed no evidence of memory for the children's pictures," the authors said.
"This was true regardless of the importance the customers attached to the issue, the self-reported time spent looking at the pictures, and the customer's intention to look for the children in the community," they added.
Lampinen has suggested two simple things people can do to improve their memory for the faces of missing children.
First, he suggested that people should take a few minutes to look at the photos of missing children during the next visit to the supermarket, engaging in what is called 'implementation intention.'
"Previous research has shown that if you repeat an intention to yourself three times out loud, you can dramatically increase doing whatever it is you intend to do," Lampinen said.
Lampinen suggested that people look at the faces in the posters holistically.
"One mistake we sometimes make is to try to memorize a face in the same way we memorize a string of words. A string of words you can memorize one word at a time. With a face, you can't just remember the eyes and then the nose and then the mouth. Rather, faces are best remembered as perceptual wholes. You have to take it all in," Lampinen said.
He has suggested that people make qualitative judgments about the face that relate the child's appearance to their personal life by thinking who the child looks like.
"Try to picture the child's face in different situations. This can improve the holistic encoding of the face," Lampinen said.
The study is published in an upcoming issue of the Journal of Interpersonal Violence.