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Psychol Sci. 2007 Nov;18(11):943-7.

Rare targets are rarely missed in correctable search.

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Department of Psychology and Neuroscience, Center for Cognitive Neuroscience, Duke University, Durham, NC 27708, USA.


Failing to find a tumor in an x-ray scan or a gun in an airport baggage screening can have dire consequences, making it fundamentally important to elucidate the mechanisms that hinder performance in such visual searches. Recent laboratory work has indicated that low target prevalence can lead to disturbingly high miss rates in visual search. Here, however, we demonstrate that misses in low-prevalence searches can be readily abated. When targets are rarely present, observers adapt by responding more quickly, and miss rates are high. Critically, though, these misses are often due to response-execution errors, not perceptual or identification errors: Observers know a target was present, but just respond too quickly. When provided an opportunity to correct their last response, observers can catch their mistakes. Thus, low target prevalence may not be a generalizable cause of high miss rates in visual search.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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