Good Question: Will these tips help you find a missing person?

May 20, 2019 08:45 AM

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — Four local people, who we put to the test, gave us some insight on what would help trigger their memories to help them find a missing person faster. We also heard from a memory expert on what you can do at home to help find a missing person the next time you see an alert.

You may remember our experiment last week. We showed a group of volunteers a report of a missing person who wasn't really missing. They saw a picture of the subject and a description of the car that might be involved. We then asked them to pick out our volunteer at a cafe. They struggled a bit even though he was about 100 feet away.


In a News10NBC follow up, we asked our panel what would have helped trigger their memory.

"I wish we had more information on why this person is missing," Michael Derosa said. 

"Maybe even a personal touch to it," Bill Turturro said. "If there was more of a compelling story, like an interview with his loved ones, something that makes it more emotional for us to remember."

The group agreed, on-camera interviews with family members would help. 

We brought their comments to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

Director Ed Suk says the center already works with parents or family members of those missing, but on-camera interviews are not always possible.

"Some (family members) are terrified to be on camera because it's so emotional and there is so much going on," Suk said.

When it comes to Amber Alerts, cases are often solved for one big reason.

"You have a picture of a child out there, information on the vehicle," Suk said. "It's a bombardment of information quickly and you are more likely to act on it."

But not all cases warrant an Amber Alert, so creating that emotional connection is key.

"The backstory is really what connects with the public," Suk said.

Equally important, the picture of the missing person that is given to media outlets.

"There are a lot of studies on facial recognition in folks' ability to remember based on the emotional response that is in the picture," said Clinical Neuropsychologist Dr. Tanya Grace with Rochester Regional Health. "So if someone has a very neutral response, when they often do when they are incarcerated in a mugshot, there might not be as much of a memory tag as opposed to  someone who is smiling or looks mean. An expression gives us this emotional response so we can remember that a little bit better."

You can do something at home to help trigger your memory after you see a missing person report. Take time to remember the photo, keep it in your phone if you have to, and look at it throughout the day. As for remembering car information, like colors, play memory games.

"If the car is red, think about apples to help you remember," Grace said.

Another important tip, keep current pictures of your loved ones. With smartphone cameras this should be easy. Store them in your phone in the event they go missing.

For parents, the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children has an app where you can store your kids information and create a profile with critical information should they every turn up missing. The app is available on the App Store and Google Play.


Pat Taney

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