Serial dependence in a simulated clinical visual search task

Sci Rep. 2019 Dec 27;9(1):19937. doi: 10.1038/s41598-019-56315-z.


In everyday life, we continuously search for and classify objects in the environment around us. This kind of visual search is extremely important when performed by radiologists in cancer image interpretation and officers in airport security screening. During these tasks, observers often examine large numbers of uncorrelated images (tumor x-rays, checkpoint x-rays, etc.) one after another. An underlying assumption of such tasks is that search and recognition are independent of our past experience. Here, we simulated a visual search task reminiscent of medical image search and found that shape classification performance was strongly impaired by recent visual experience, biasing classification errors 7% more towards the previous image content. This perceptual attraction exhibited the three main tuning characteristics of Continuity Fields: serial dependence extended over 12 seconds back in time (temporal tuning), it occurred only between similar tumor-like shapes (feature tuning), and only within a limited spatial region (spatial tuning). Taken together, these results demonstrate that serial dependence influences shape perception and occurs in visual search tasks. They also raise the possibility of a detrimental impact of serial dependence in clinical and practically relevant settings, such as medical image perception.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attention / physiology
  • Bias
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Memory / physiology
  • Pattern Recognition, Visual / physiology*
  • Visual Perception / physiology*