See Inside August/September 2006

Swept Up in Land Mines

Cognitive scientists don't often get a chance to save lives. This summer James Staszewski will continue to do so.

The U.S. Army originally approached Staszewski, a cognitive psychology professor at Carnegie Mellon University, eight years ago to troubleshoot the training program for personnel who would be detecting land mines in war and peacekeeping zones. Trainees had fared abysmally in exercises, catching only 10 to 20 percent of mock mines. Staszewski had been researching how people acquire exceptional memory and calculation skills. His studies upheld the idea that expertise accrues from experience, so in principle good minesweeping should be teachable. The army paired Staszewski with Vietnam War veteran Floyd “Rocky” Rockwell, who was working with a humanitarian group removing mines in war-torn countries.

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