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Mathias Fleck, Stephen Mitroff; Videogamers excel at finding rare targets. Journal of Vision 2008;8(6):313. doi: https://doi.org/10.1167/8.6.313.
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Important real-world visual searches often operate with rarely present targets. For example, targets are seldom present in airport baggage X-ray screening, radiology, and aircraft inspection. Disturbingly, rare target searches can produce high miss rates when observers proceed too quickly. The low frequency of targets causes searchers to abort searches more and more rapidly, ultimately causing numerous motor errors and incomplete scanning of the display. Here we demonstrate that individuals with extensive videogame experience perform much more accurately on such rare target visual searches than individuals without any videogame experience. This significant accuracy benefit for videogame players (VGPs) over non-videogame players (NVGPs) derives largely from a top-down, strategic slowing of responses, countering the typical speed-up observed in rare target search. Although all participants were allowed as much time as desired for each search array, VGPs avoided the pitfall of responding too quickly in low frequency conditions, whereas NVGPs sped up and consequently yielded the typical speed-accuracy trade-off. Even under conditions of faster responding, VGPs continued to perform more accurately than NVGPs, potentially highlighting a bottom-up, response-based advantage. These findings demonstrate that videogame expertise accurately predicts higher performance on rare target search, suggesting important implications for real-world search tasks with similar low target probabilities.
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