Perception and Attention


Research on perception and attention is pertinent across the cancer control continuum. For example:

  • If you want to communicate probabilistic information (such as risks or benefits of certain behaviors) through visual images, you need to understand how the visual system processes quantitative information.
  • If you want to understand how the built environment influences people's propensity for physical activity, you need to understand spatial cognition.
  • If you want to improve the accuracy of cancer screening procedures, you need to understand the attentional limitations of the human reader.
  • If you want to understand how various cancer treatments may impair patients' cognitive functioning, you need to understand not only normal cognitive function, but also how perceptual deficits may reduce the quality of the information patients are taking in from their surroundings.

The BBPSB Perception and Attention initiative aims to promote basic research in perception and attention relevant to cancer control and prevention. Such research can inform our efforts to reduce the burden of cancer.

Basic Biobehavioral and Psychological Sciences at NCI: Bridging Visual Perception and Attention
BBPSB Program Director Dr. Todd Horowitz discusses basic research in perception and attention in the context of cancer control.

Funding Opportunity

Perception and Cognition Research to Inform Cancer Image Interpretation

Expiration Date
September 27, 2019

The purpose of this funding opportunity is to facilitate research on the perceptual and cognitive processes underlying the performance of cancer image observers in radiology and pathology in order to improve the accuracy of cancer detection and diagnosis.

Despite technical advances in many areas of diagnostic radiology, the detection and diagnosis of human cancer via imaging remains fallible. For example, data from the Breast Cancer Surveillance Consortium show false negative rates of approximately 13.1 percent and false positive rates of 11.1 percent for mammography. Although some of these errors might be due to the limitations of the images themselves, a large proportion are attributable the perceptual and cognitive faculties of the clinicians and other specialists who diagnose, stage, and treat cancer (a.k.a. “observers”). Some sources of perceptual and cognitive errors have been identified, but for the most part, errors in cancer image interpretation are still largely unexplained. Research in perception and cognition will uncover important factors that influence how observers perceive, remember, learn, and act upon the images they view.

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Informational Webinar

Related Events

RSNA Perception Laboratory

The NCI laboratory at the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA) annual meeting provides a shared facility for investigators to recruit and test radiologist observers for multiple experiments.

Seeing the Science in Medical Imaging NCI Workshop in Vision Research

In 2014, NCI convened experts in medical imaging and vision science to discuss the current challenges in the perception of medical images by human observers, and to help advance the research agenda in cancer prevention and control. Visit the event page for recordings and transcripts of the event.


Todd S. Horowitz, Ph.D.
Program Director