Shhh, keep this podcast a secret. Because new research points to a possible blind spot in airport security screening: it may be easier to sneak something dangerous past security–a box cutter, for example–by also including an obvious and innocuous banned object, like a water bottle, into the mix as a distraction.
Scientists recruited college students to find targets on a computer display. Their task: search for lines that formed a T amidst other non-T lines in 10 different experiments. Sometimes the Ts were easy to find, sometimes they were more hidden. When the easy and tough ones appeared with equal frequency, the students found both on the same screen.
When the easy T’s appeared two to three times more frequently, the students were more likely to miss the tough ones. But when the students were given extra time, lessening the pressure, they were more able to find both targets almost as quickly.
The study [Mathias Fleck et al., Journal of Experimental Psychology, http://bit.ly/djORI2] suggests that actual professional screeners need to be just as vigilant in their attention after finding a first piece of contraband in a given bag. And keeping their stress levels as low as possible should help their performance.
[The above text is an exact transcript of this podcast.]