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The effect of expert knowledge on medical search: medical experts have specialized abilities for detecting serious lesions

Abstract

How does domain-specific knowledge influence the experts’ performance in their domain of expertise? Specifically, can visual search experts find, with uniform efficiency, any type of target in their domain of expertise? We examined whether acquired knowledge of target importance influences an expert’s visual search performance. In some professional searches (e.g., medical screenings), certain targets are rare; one aim of this study was to examine the extent to which experts miss such targets in their searches. In one experiment, radiologists (medical experts) engaged in a medical lesion search task in which both the importance (i.e., seriousness/gravity) and the prevalence of targets varied. Results showed decreased target detection rates in the low prevalence conditions (i.e., the prevalence effect). Also, experts were better at detecting important (versus unimportant) lesions. Results of an experiment using novices ruled out the possibility that decreased performance with unimportant targets was due to low target noticeability/visibility. Overall, the findings suggest that radiologists do not have a generalized ability to detect any type of lesion; instead, they have acquired a specialized ability to detect only those important lesions relevant for effective medical practices.

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Fig. 1

Notes

  1. To calculate d′ and C, we used the numerical correction values of detection rate and correct rejection rate when they were 1. A general correction method assumes that 1 − 1/2N (N is the number of target-present/-absent trials) (see Macmillan & Creelman, 1991). In this study, there was a large difference in the number of target-absent trials between the two prevalence conditions (18 vs. 882 trials). To equalize the correction values, when detection rate and correct rejection rate in each condition were higher than 0.97 (i.e., 1 − 1/36), we regarded them as 0.97 in all conditions.

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Acknowledgments

R. N. is now at Riken as a postdoctoral researcher. I. M. is now at Kanto Rosai Hospital.

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Correspondence to Ryoichi Nakashima.

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Nakashima, R., Watanabe, C., Maeda, E. et al. The effect of expert knowledge on medical search: medical experts have specialized abilities for detecting serious lesions. Psychological Research 79, 729–738 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00426-014-0616-y

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s00426-014-0616-y

Keywords

  • Visual Search
  • Search Task
  • Target Lesion
  • Search Performance
  • Target Type