A new photography study from researchers at the University of Warwick has found that many people aren’t very good at determining whether an image has been digitally manipulated.
The study, which has an online test component that anyone can take, asks volunteers to look at 10 different images and guess whether each is altered or unaltered. Volunteers are also tasked with choosing the part of the image they think was altered, and rating their certainty about the alteration(s) or lack thereof.
After compiling the results, the researchers found that only 65% of altered images were correctly identified by volunteers; even less unaltered images were identified, at just 58%. Given that chance performance is 50%, the results show that the volunteers did little better than they would have with simple guessing. Furthermore, the team found that age and gender did not affect the results, with the difficulty being notable across all volunteers.
“In the digital age, where photo editing is easy and accessible to everyone, this research raises questions about how vigilant we must be before we can trust a picture’s authenticity,” said the university in a release. “It is crucial that images used as evidence in courts—and those used in journalism—are better monitored, to ensure they are accurate and truthful, as faked images in these contexts could lead to dire consequences and miscarriages of justice.”