Doctored Photos Go Largely Undetected by the Public, Study Shows

Doctored Photos Go Largely Undetected by the Public, Study Shows

Fake news is pretty common these days, and it got that way because, sadly, many believe what they read even if it’s not rooted at all in the truth. Now, researchers from England have shown that many people will also believe what they see. even if it’s fake.

Sophie J. Nightingale, the lead researcher on the study out of the University of Warwick, tested 700 men and women and found that they could only tell an image was faked 60 percent of the time. Worse, only 45 percent could point out what was changed. The changes ranged from subtle alterations such as airbrushing sweat and wrinkles, to wholesale additions, deletions or flipping around of parts of the image.

The methodology the researchers used, though, could lend itself to some confusion – participants in the study were shown the manipulated images, yes, but never side-by-side with the original, and so someone would not have necessarily known whether a subject had wrinkles or was sweating. Still, changes such as the direction of shadows in flipped parts of the images would be easier to spot even without having the original handy.

One would assume that being a photographer would help in distinguishing a fake photo but the researchers say that they “did not find any strong evidence to suggest that individual factors, such as having an interest in photography or beliefs about the extent of image manipulation in society, are associated with improved ability to detect or locate manipulations.”

The Washington Post took some of the photos from the study and created a quiz to test its readers. You can cruise on over there and test yourself to see if you can spot the fakes.

As for the photo at the top of this post, sometimes, you have to look closely to spot the fake. One of these treasured family photos attached to the top of this post is a manipulation – can you tell which one is the real moment and which one is a Photoshop?

[via The Washington Post]

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14 Comments

Kirk Darling's picture

Why is this a story? Why was it even a study? Photographs have been manipulated from the moment the final image became a separate entity from the camera image. And it's been long known that even witnesses of real life scenes only notice as much as the situation requires for their action. In our image-bombarding environment, why expect people to commonly inspect every image for shadow conflicts and surface abnormalities?

Moreover, what is a "fake" image? Manipulation can also produce truth when the SOOC fails to capture it. In the two images shown in this article, either could represent a moment that actually occurred, and a composite may very well most truthfully represent the experience of the event.

Anonymous's picture

If the purpose of the photo is to document an event, it could matter depending on the intent of the manipulation.

Charles Gaudreault's picture

the right is photoshoped

The left is the better picture and is likely to have some components from the right one (kid's head). Either way, neither are fake nor true. They are both 2D interpretations of a real life moment in time that has passed.

The kid's head from the one on the right was added into the one on the left to create a better shot.

Anonymous's picture

I think the one on the left is photoshopped due to the lack of arms on the child. Also, it's the stronger photo. And lastly, it doesn't require the creation of as much data. Honestly, I think it's a trick question. I think they were both photoshopped or neither.

Shintaro Maeda's picture

What kind of sick person would photoshop out the child's arms. lol. Joking aside, seeing the lint removal on the shirt, the left seems to be more doctored.

Heratch Ekmekjian's picture

I agree with Kirk Darling, why is this a story? Has nobody seen advertising photos? Those will usually try to be truthful only to stay within the law. Nothing in the example here, nor those on the Washington Post site exhibit worrisome manipulations. Who cares if the child's face is copied from one photo to the other? I'd do that with pictures of my own kid, in fact I have done that.

Wasim Ahmad's picture

So to answer the question - the photo on the left is a composite. I took the head from the right and put it on the left. Shintaro - keen eye on the lint removal being the giveaway!

Indeed my son does have arms, they are just tucked behind mine, no Photoshop there.

As to the importance of this study - for advertising, commercial, illustrative work, this doesn't matter at all really. For journalists, this is a huge, huge deal that people can't tell fake photos from real ones.

I'm confused. Many photographers can edit photos to a degree that they can't be determined if they are real or not. You can do the same with video if you work hard enough at it. It seems like this article should be more about how there are doctored images out there and how they are changing opinions of people through their lies, not about how people have a hard time seeing the photoshopping. Anyone can be fooled by photoshop. Unless you are trained and looking at a full size image where you can zoom in, very very few people can see any issues from a well edited file. How does knowing that people can be fooled by editing be helpful? Hasn't this been known for the past hundred years?

The right is photoshoped, the lady has been given a liposuction flatter stomach

Wasim Ahmad's picture

Nope. Just a head swap and lint removal.

Heratch Ekmekjian's picture

Just out of curiosity, since you swapped his head, why not add his hand, like this?

Wasim Ahmad's picture

Now that was a good idea I didn't notice the first time around.