Comparable prediction of breast cancer risk from a glimpse or a first impression of a mammogram

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Expert radiologists can discern normal from abnormal mammograms with above-chance accuracy after brief (e.g. 500 ms) exposure. They can even predict cancer risk viewing currently normal images (priors) from women who will later develop cancer. This involves a rapid, global, non-selective process called “gist extraction”. It is not yet known whether prolonged exposure can strengthen the gist signal, or if it is available solely in the early exposure. This is of particular interest for the priors that do not contain any localizable signal of abnormality. The current study compared performance with brief (500 ms) or unlimited exposure for four types of mammograms (normal, abnormal, contralateral, priors). Groups of expert radiologists and untrained observers were tested. As expected, radiologists outperformed naïve participants. Replicating prior work, they exceeded chance performance though the gist signal was weak. However, we found no consistent performance differences in radiologists or naïves between timing conditions. Exposure time neither increased nor decreased ability to identify the gist of abnormality or predict cancer risk. If gist signals are to have a place in cancer risk assessments, more efforts should be made to strengthen the signal.




Raat, E. M., Farr, I., Wolfe, J. M., & Evans, K. K. (2021). Comparable prediction of breast cancer risk from a glimpse or a first impression of a mammogram. Cognitive Research: Principles and Implications, 6(1).

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