The INSIDER Summary:
- Most of us know how easy it is to Photoshop pictures these days.
- According to new research, however, we’re not that good at spotting altered photos when we see them.
- Participants in a recent study were able to identify a digitally altered photo only 60% of the time, on average.
- Even when they could correctly identify an altered photo, only 45% could point out exactly what had been changed.
Most of us know how easy it is to edit photos these days.
However, according to a study published on Tuesday in the journal “Cognitive Research: Principles and Implications,” we’re not that good at spotting Photoshopped photos — despite what we may think.
Across two experiments, researcher Sophie Nightingale showed 1,366 people a series of 10 images and asked them whether or not they were digitally altered. All the images were of “real-world scenes” (e.g., a man taking a selfie in front of the Golden Gate Bridge), and two types of edits were made: “plausible” edits such as airbrushed skin, and “physically implausible manipulations” such as shadows facing the wrong way.
Below are two of the edited photos Nightingale used in her study:
The first is an example of a physically plausible manipulation.
In the edited photo on the right, a water pipe has been digitally added to the wall in the background.
And the second is an example of a physically implausible manipulation.
In the edited photo on the right, the man’s shadow has been altered to face the wrong way.
On average, people were able to identify manipulated photos 60% of the time in the first experiment and 65% of the time in the second.
That’s more accurate than they would have been if they had just randomly guessed — but not by much. In fact, even when people could correctly identify an altered photo, only 45% could point out exactly what had been altered.
The findings also suggest that our ability to detect altered photos is influenced more by the amount of change in an edited picture than the plausibility of those changes.
As photo editing tools become more advanced, studies like this one are an “important first step in understanding” our perception of manipulated images, writes Nightingale, a PhD student who conducts cognitive psychology research at the University of Warwick in Coventry, England.
There’s no clear answer to how we should deal with edited photos, despite their prevalence in the media and on social networking platforms like Instagram. But whether the solution is to create a clear set of guidelines for the responsible use of Photoshop — think the Hippocratic Oath, but for content creators — or to stop its use altogether, we should all be more wary of the images we see in our everyday lives.
“Photos are incredibly powerful. They influence how we see the world. They can even influence our memory of things. If we can’t tell the fake ones from the real ones, the fakes are going to be powerful, too,” Nightingale told The Washington Post.
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