Applied perception in military applications: Detection of hidden explosive hazards

Nancy Cooke, James Staszewski

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


Introduction Accurate and efficient perception is of paramount importance to the military’s execution of its responsibilities for national defense. The capabilities to detect change in the environment as distally and as early as possible and to distinguish quickly between those that pose threats and those that do not carry the highest possible stakes for military personnel, as well as those whom they support and defend. For example, the illustrious defense of Great Britain against the 1940 German air assault, credited with turning the tide against the Axis in the West in World War II, exemplifies the military advantage of early veridical threat perception. The ability to anticipate the arrival times and target locations of incoming squadrons enabled the British Air Force to deploy limited air assets strategically to defend a vast area, defeat a numerically superior force (initially), and thwart invasion. Fratricide rates in combat operations estimated in the range of 15-20 percent (U.S. Congress, Office of Technology Assessment, 1993) testify to the tragic costs of failure to discriminate friend from foe. In this chapter we focus on perception and the application of the science of perception to the detection of hidden explosive hazards in the military (i.e., land mines, improvised explosive devices, or IEDs). Perception is defined as the observer’s understanding of the environment that is achieved through direct interaction with that environment (Gibson, 1979) or mediated through direct interaction with technology (e.g., infrared cameras, metal detectors) that act as extensions of human sensors. We thus construe perception broadly, as human apprehension of the external world. Thus, mechanisms that support perception, especially well-adapted skilled perception, are assumed to include sensation, attention, memory, motor processes, and strategic, executive control. Vowels (2010) posits, for instance, that the processes of attentiveness, recognition, and action are at the heart of skilled threat detection. Furthermore, the external world, complete with its social and cultural processes, is an important part of the perceptual equation (Hutchins, 1995).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe Cambridge Handbook of Applied Perception Research
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages22
ISBN (Electronic)9780511973017
ISBN (Print)9781107072909
StatePublished - Jan 1 2015

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Psychology


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