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Spotting weapons in baggage x-rays; cutting-edge Southampton research to be highlighted at a prestigious national exhibition

Published: 5 July 2011Origin: Psychology

An international Psychology team from the University of Southampton has been selected to present their research at the Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition, which opens its doors today (5 July 2011).

Efficient airport security

Dr Tamaryn Menneer and colleagues are conducting research about efficiency in security baggage checks. Their findings could be used to reduce the amount of time passengers spend queuing through security control.

“Standing in the queue at airport security waiting to have our belongings scanned is a familiar experience for many people. I think visitors to the exhibition will find it interesting to stop and think about what X-ray screeners are actually seeing and how the human brain makes sense of it,” comments Dr Menneer.

Airport security staff, or ‘screeners,’ monitor X-ray images of baggage to search for multiple types of weapons: guns, knives and explosives. The materials (metals and explosives) show up as different colours, but searching for these different colours at the same time creates a potential challenge for the brain’s visual system.

By monitoring eye movements, the research team from the University of Southampton’s Centre for Visual Cognition and the University of Massachusetts, has shown that searching for two different colours simultaneously is more difficult than looking for a single specific colour. One implication of the findings is that searches might be quicker by having two screeners, each tasked with spotting one type of weapon.

Future research from the Centre for Visual Cognition and Durham University’s Visualization Laboratory will assess the usefulness of 3D images in training participants to interpret X-ray images. 


This research project will be exhibiting interactive displays at the Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition in London between 5 -10 July 2011. Entry is free: for more information visit the Royal Society website

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