Screening's Red Herrings

By Joseph Straw
The final two experiments examined the impact of volunteers’ expectations about targets’ salience and frequency by including multiple targets with equal prominence in each screen. In one such experiment, screens were equally likely to contain one or two targets, which did not cause a change in performance. In a second experiment, the likelihood was randomized, which did increase errors. The conclusion: multiple categories of targets do not affect error rates, but screeners are “indeed sensitive to expectations about the number of targets.”
The goal of the research, still in its early stages, is to develop training and procedure options to prevent satisfaction-of- search errors, lead researcher Stephen Mitroff, an associate professor at Duke and founder of the school’s Visual Cognition Lab, tells Security Management.
This finding about workload and pressure should “be an important consideration…in constructing the environment in which searches are conducted,” the researchers wrote, suggesting queues should be out of screeners’ view.
Volunteers in Mitroff’s experiments on search ability and threat sensitivity complete standard clinical self-assessment questionnaires on attention-deficit hyperactivity (ADHD) disorders. TSA spokesman Greg Soule explains that the agency’s screeners are subject to similar evaluation prior to assignment. “If there is a concern about a current employee’s ability to be attentive, a fitness-for-duty evaluation would be conducted which would rely on the same standards that are used during the application process,” he says.




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