Serial dependence in the perceptual judgments of radiologists

Cogn Res Princ Implic. 2021 Oct 14;6(1):65. doi: 10.1186/s41235-021-00331-z.


In radiological screening, clinicians scan myriads of radiographs with the intent of recognizing and differentiating lesions. Even though they are trained experts, radiologists' human search engines are not perfect: average daily error rates are estimated around 3-5%. A main underlying assumption in radiological screening is that visual search on a current radiograph occurs independently of previously seen radiographs. However, recent studies have shown that human perception is biased by previously seen stimuli; the bias in our visual system to misperceive current stimuli towards previous stimuli is called serial dependence. Here, we tested whether serial dependence impacts radiologists' recognition of simulated lesions embedded in actual radiographs. We found that serial dependence affected radiologists' recognition of simulated lesions; perception on an average trial was pulled 13% toward the 1-back stimulus. Simulated lesions were perceived as biased towards the those seen in the previous 1 or 2 radiographs. Similar results were found when testing lesion recognition in a group of untrained observers. Taken together, these results suggest that perceptual judgements of radiologists are affected by previous visual experience, and thus some of the diagnostic errors exhibited by radiologists may be caused by serial dependence from previously seen radiographs.

Keywords: Priming; Radiological screening; Sequential dependence; Sequential effects; Serial dependence; Visual search.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Bias
  • Humans
  • Judgment*
  • Radiologists
  • Recognition, Psychology
  • Visual Perception*