Attention, Perception, & Psychophysics

, Volume 71, Issue 3, pp 541–553 | Cite as

Even in correctable search, some types of rare targets are frequently missed

  • Michael J. Van Wert
  • Todd S. Horowitz
  • Jeremy M. Wolfe
Research Articles


Socially important visual search tasks, such as airport baggage screening and tumor detection, place observers in situations where the targets are rare and the consequences of failed detection are substantial. Recent laboratory studies have demonstrated that low target prevalence yields substantially higher miss errors than do high-prevalence conditions, in which the same targets appear frequently (Wolfe, Horowitz, & Kenner, 2005; Wolfe et al., 2007). Under some circumstances, this \ldprevalence effect\rd can be eliminated simply by allowing observers to correct their last response (Fleck & Mitroff, 2007). However, in three experiments involving search of realistic X-ray luggage images, we found that the prevalence effect is eliminated neither by giving observers the choice to correct a previous response nor by requiring observers to confirm their responses. This prevalence effect, obtained when no trial-by-trial feedback was given, was smaller than the effect obtained when observers searched through the same stimuli but were given trial-by-trial feedback about accuracy. We suggest that low prevalence puts pressure on observers in any search task, and that the diverse symptoms of that pressure manifest themselves differently in different situations. In some relatively simple search tasks, misses may result from motor or response errors. In other, more complex tasks, shifts in decision criteria appear to be an important contributor.


False Alarm Visual Search False Alarm Rate Search Task Prevalence Effect 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Michael J. Van Wert
    • 1
  • Todd S. Horowitz
    • 1
    • 2
  • Jeremy M. Wolfe
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Brigham and Women’s HospitalBoston
  2. 2.Harvard Medical SchoolBoston

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