Efficiency of the human observer detecting random signals in random backgrounds

Subok Park, Eric Clarkson, Matthew A. Kupinski, Harrison H. Barrett

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

61 Scopus citations


The efficiencies of the human observer and the channelized-Hotelling observer relative to the ideal observer for signal-detection tasks are discussed. Both signal-known-exactly (SKE) tasks and signal-known-statistically (SKS) tasks are considered. Signal location is uncertain for the SKS tasks, and lumpy backgrounds are used for background uncertainty in both cases. Markov chain Monte Carlo methods are employed to determine ideal-observer performance on the detection tasks. Psychophysical studies are conducted to compute human-observer performance on the same tasks. Efficiency is computed as the squared ratio of the detectabilities of the observer of interest to the ideal observer. Human efficiencies are approximately 2.1% and 24%. respectively, for the SKE and SKS tasks. The results imply that human observers are not affected as much as the ideal observer by signal-location uncertainty even though the ideal observer outperforms the human observer for both tasks. Three different simplified pinhole imaging systems are simulated, and the humans and the model observers rank the systems in the same order for both the SKE and the SKS tasks.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3-16
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of the Optical Society of America A: Optics and Image Science, and Vision
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2005

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Electronic, Optical and Magnetic Materials
  • Atomic and Molecular Physics, and Optics
  • Computer Vision and Pattern Recognition


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