Effects of Professional Visual Search Experience on Domain-General and Domain-Specific Visual Cognition

  • Laura E. MatzenEmail author
  • Michael J. Haass
  • Laura A. McNamara
  • Susan M. Stevens-Adams
  • Stephanie N. McMichael
Conference paper
Part of the Lecture Notes in Computer Science book series (LNCS, volume 9183)


Vision is one of the dominant human senses and most human-computer interfaces rely heavily on the capabilities of the human visual system. An enormous amount of effort is devoted to finding ways to visualize information so that humans can understand and make sense of it. By studying how professionals engage in these visual search tasks, we can develop insights into their cognitive processes and the influence of experience on those processes. This can advance our understanding of visual cognition in addition to providing information that can be applied to designing improved data visualizations or training new analysts.

In this study, we investigated the role of expertise on performance in a Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) target detection task. SAR imagery differs substantially from optical imagery, making it a useful domain for investigating expert-novice differences. The participants in this study included professional SAR imagery analysts, radar engineers with experience working with SAR imagery, and novices who had little or no prior exposure to SAR imagery. Participants from all three groups completed a domain-specific visual search task in which they searched for targets within pairs of SAR images. They also completed a battery of domain-general visual search and cognitive tasks that measured factors such as mental rotation ability, spatial working memory, and useful field of view. The results revealed marked differences between the professional imagery analysts and the other groups, both for the domain-specific task and for some domain-general tasks. These results indicate that experience with visual search in non-optical imagery can influence performance on other domains.


Visual search Expertise 


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Laura E. Matzen
    • 1
    Email author
  • Michael J. Haass
    • 1
  • Laura A. McNamara
    • 1
  • Susan M. Stevens-Adams
    • 1
  • Stephanie N. McMichael
    • 1
  1. 1.Sandia National LaboratoriesAlbuquerqueUSA

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