False feedback increases detection of low-prevalence targets in visual search

Jeremy Schwark, Joshua Sandry, Justin MacDonald, Igor Dolgov

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

35 Scopus citations


Many critical search tasks, such as airport and medical screening, involve searching for targets that are rarely present. These low-prevalence targets are associated with extremely high miss rates Wolfe, Horowitz, & Kenner (Nature, 435, 439-440, 2005). The inflated miss rates are caused by a criterion shift, likely due to observers attempting to equate the numbers of misses and false alarms. This equalizing strategy results in a neutral criterion at 50 % target prevalence, but leads to a higher proportion of misses for low-prevalence targets. In the present study, we manipulated participants' perceived number of misses through explicit false feedback. As predicted, the participants in the false-feedback condition committed a higher number of false alarms due to a shifted criterion. Importantly, the participants in this condition were also more successful in detecting targets. These results highlight the importance of perceived prevalence in target search tasks.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1583-1589
Number of pages7
JournalAttention, Perception, and Psychophysics
Issue number8
StatePublished - 2012


  • Feedback
  • Low prevalence
  • Signal detection theory
  • Visual search


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