Does visual expertise improve visual recognition memory?

Karla K Evans, Michael A Cohen, Rosemary Tambouret, Todd Horowitz, Erica Kreindel, Jeremy M Wolfe

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In general, humans have impressive recognition memory for previously viewed pictures. Many people spend years becoming experts in highly specialized image sets. For example, cytologists are experts at searching micrographs filled with potentially cancerous cells and radiologists are expert at searching mammograms for indications of cancer. Do these experts develop robust visual long-term memory for their domain of expertise? If so, is this expertise specific to the trained image class, or do such experts possess generally superior visual memory? We tested recognition memory of cytologists, radiologists, and controls with no medical experience for three visual stimulus classes: isolated objects, scenes, and mammograms or micrographs. Experts were better than control observers at recognizing images from their domain, but their memory for those images was not particularly good (D' ~ 1.0) and was much worse than memory for objects or scenes (D' > 2.0). Furthermore, experts were not better at recognizing scenes or isolated objects than control observers.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)30-5
Number of pages6
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2011


  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Attention
  • Clinical Competence
  • Discrimination Learning
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mammography
  • Middle Aged
  • Pattern Recognition, Visual
  • Practice (Psychology)
  • Professional Competence
  • Retention (Psychology)
  • Vaginal Smears
  • Young Adult

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