CREST Guide: Individual differences in ability to search

individual differences in ability to search

What individual differences influence our ability to search? Based on research by CREST researchers Nick Donnelly, Anne Hillstrom and Natalie Mestry, this guide presents an overview of some of the differences between peoples’ ability to search and find targets.

There are a number of factors which can affect peoples’ ability to search and detect targets. These can be cognitive abilities like perception and working memory. Functional factors like how much someone can see without moving their eyes can also play a role. Based on research in this CREST project, this guide presents an overview of these differences. The key findings include:

  • Successful search requires perception, memory, attention and decision-making skills. All of these vary amongst people.
  • All of these abilities can be trained
  • It is not clear whether or not training on the basic ability transfers to complex tasks easily.
  • Women on average have less spatial ability than men. This seems to be a difference that can sometimes be overcome by training, depending on what spatial task is being considered.
  • Older adults on average have slower processing speeds, poorer visual acuity, smaller functional fields of view, and smaller working memory capacity. Training improves these skills, but trained younger adults will still perform better.
  • People from collectivist cultures (including many Asian countries) are more influenced by contextual information than people from individualist cultures (e.g., Western Europe).
You can read more on this topic by downloading the guide here 16-029-01.pdf. The guide will take two minutes to read. This guide is part of a series on spotting rare, hidden or non-salient targets. The other guides can be found here.

As part of CREST’s commitment to open access research this guide is available under a Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 4.0 licence. For more details on how you can use our content see here.