The Cost of Search for Multiple Targets: Effects of Practice and Target Similarity

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With the use of X-ray images, performance in the simultaneous search for two target categories was compared with performance in two independent searches, one for each category. In all cases, displays contained one target at most. Dual-target search, for both categories simultaneously, produced a cost in accuracy, although the magnitude of this dual-target cost was affected by the nature of the targets. When target feature sets shared values, accuracy in dual-target search was equivalent to that in the less accurate of the two single-target searches. However, when targets comprised different feature sets, accuracy in dual-target search was lower than in either single-target search. These results held after practice. In conclusion, dual-target search performance depends on the target representations required for search. When combined representations contain conflicting values within the most informative feature dimensions, then there is a cost in performance. When target representations share features, the search can be guided by the common values so that resources are not wasted on irrelevant distractors. The implication is that security screener performance might be improved by specializing in searching for threat categories that share features.

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