Spotting lesions in thorax X-rays at a glance: holistic processing in radiology

Merim Bilalić*, Thomas Grottenthaler, Thomas Nägele, Tobias Lindig

*Corresponding author for this work

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Radiologists often need only a glance to grasp the essence of complex medical images. Here, we use paradigms and manipulations from perceptual learning and expertise fields to elicit mechanisms and limits of holistic processing in radiological expertise. In the first experiment, radiologists were significantly better at categorizing thorax X-rays when they were presented for 200 ms in an upright orientation than when they were presented upside-down. Medical students, in contrast, were guessing in both situations. When the presentation time was increased to 500 ms, allowing for a couple more glances, the radiologists improved their performance on the upright stimuli, but remained at the same level on the inverted presentation. The second experiment circumvented the holistic processing by immediately cueing a tissue within the X-rays, which may or may not contain a nodule. Radiologists were again better than medical students at recognizing whether the cued tissue was a nodule, but this time neither the inverted presentation nor additional time affected their performance. Our study demonstrates that holistic processing is most likely a continuous recurring process which is just as susceptible to the inversion effect as in other expertise domains. More importantly, our study also indicates that holistic-like processing readily occurs in complex stimuli (e.g., whole thorax X-rays) but is more difficult to find in uniform single parts of such stimuli (e.g., nodules).

Original languageEnglish
Article number99
Number of pages13
JournalCognitive Research: Principles and Implications
Issue number1
Early online date22 Nov 2022
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2022


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