People Are Pretty Bad At Spotting Whether An Image Is Fake


Tom Hale


Tom Hale

Senior Journalist

Tom is a writer in London with a Master's degree in Journalism whose editorial work covers anything from health and the environment to technology and archaeology.

Senior Journalist


An edited version of this image from the G20 summit went viral earlier this month. via @fuadhud/Twitter

As you can tell by half the stuff you see flying around on social media, people are really bad at spotting if an image is “Photoshopped” and digitally altered.

Take, for example, an image that went viral earlier this month of politicians at the G20 summit that appeared to show Donald Trump, Angela Merkel, and Turkish President Erdogan all flocking around Vladimir Putin. In reality, the chair they are gathered around was empty and Putin was digitally edited in allegedly by the Russian media (image below).


New research has looked into this "fake news" phenomenon and found that, yes, people are pretty crap at detecting fake images.

The new study by psychologists at the University of Warwick in the UK has found that people can only identify a fake image around 60 percent of the time. Even if they guessed correctly that an image was modified, the majority of participants then struggled to locate what had been changed.

Their research was recently published in the journal Cognitive Research: Principles and Implications.

"Our study found that although people performed better than chance at detecting and locating image manipulations, they are far from perfect,” Sophie Nightingale, PhD student and lead author from the University of Warwick, said in a statement“This has serious implications because of the high-level of images, and possibly fake images, that people are exposed to on a daily basis through social networking sites, the Internet and the media."


Around 660 people, aged between 13 and 70, were asked to take part in an online test that required them to look at a variety of original and edited images. They then had to spot the fake from the real and, if it was fake, identity what had been edited in the images.

You can see some of the images used in the study here and take the full test for yourself here.

An average of 60 percent of the images were correctly identified as being manipulated. Of the people who said the image was indeed fake, just 45 percent of them could accurately locate what had been altered in the image.

The one on the left is the original, while the one of the right is the doctored version (notice the man's shadow, the trash cans, and the tree). Sophie Nightingale, Cognitive Research, 2017

If 2017 had a term of the year, it would have to be "fake news". Since the tools to edit photos are becoming more easily accessible, the team hope their work can be fine-tuned to stop the issue of "fake images" in the media and politics.


"So the challenge now is to try and find ways to help people improve at this task," Nightingale added. "For instance, fake images often contain tell-tale signs that they have been manipulated, and we're conducting new research to see whether people can make use of these signs to help identify forgeries."


  • tag
  • brain,

  • images,

  • perception,

  • new,

  • politics,

  • edit,

  • photo,

  • Fake news,

  • photoshop