Cognitive psychology: rare items often missed in visual searches

Nature. 2005 May 26;435(7041):439-40. doi: 10.1038/435439a.


Our society relies on accurate performance in visual screening tasks--for example, to detect knives in luggage or tumours in mammograms. These are visual searches for rare targets. We show here that target rarity leads to disturbingly inaccurate performance in target detection: if observers do not find what they are looking for fairly frequently, they often fail to notice it when it does appear.

MeSH terms

  • Cognition / physiology*
  • False Negative Reactions
  • Humans
  • Reaction Time
  • Research Design
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Task Performance and Analysis*
  • Vision, Ocular / physiology*