Cogn Res Princ Implic. 2023 Jan 8;8(1):3. doi: 10.1186/s41235-022-00457-8.
Extraction of global structural regularities provides general ‘gist’ of our everyday visual environment as it does the gist of abnormality for medical experts reviewing medical images. We investigated whether naïve observers could learn this gist of medical abnormality. Fifteen participants completed nine adaptive training sessions viewing four categories of unilateral mammograms: normal, obvious-abnormal, subtle-abnormal, and global signals of abnormality (mammograms with no visible lesions but from breasts contralateral to or years prior to the development of cancer) and receiving only categorical feedback. Performance was tested pre-training, post-training, and after a week’s retention on 200 mammograms viewed for 500 ms without feedback. Performance measured as d’ was modulated by mammogram category, with the highest performance for mammograms with visible lesions. Post-training, twelve observed showed increased d’ for all mammogram categories but a subset of nine, labelled learners also showed a positive correlation of d’ across training. Critically, learners learned to detect abnormality in mammograms with only the global signals, but improvements were poorly retained. A state-of-the-art breast cancer classifier detected mammograms with lesions but struggled to detect cancer in mammograms with the global signal of abnormality. The gist of abnormality can be learned through perceptual/incidental learning in mammograms both with and without visible lesions, subject to individual differences. Poor retention suggests perceptual tuning to gist needs maintenance, converging with findings that radiologists’ gist performance correlates with the number of cases reviewed per year, not years of experience. The human visual system can tune itself to complex global signals not easily captured by current deep neural networks.