Brief Communications

Nature 435, 439-440 (26 May 2005) | doi:10.1038/435439a; Published online 25 May 2005

Cognitive psychology:  Rare items often missed in visual searches

Jeremy M. Wolfe1,2, Todd S. Horowitz1,2 & Naomi M. Kenner1

Our society relies on accurate performance in visual screening tasks — for example, to detect knives in luggage or tumours in mammograms. These are visual searches for rare targets. We show here that target rarity leads to disturbingly inaccurate performance in target detection: if observers do not find what they are looking for fairly frequently, they often fail to notice it when it does appear.

  1. Visual Attention Laboratory, Brigham and Women's Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts 02139, USA
  2. Department of Ophthalmology, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts 02114, USA

Correspondence to: Jeremy M. Wolfe1,2 Email:


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