Several studies have investigated the effect of signal location uncertainty on the detectability of simple visual signals in uncorrelated Gaussian noise with a deterministic background. For this case, human performance in locating a signal in a forced-choice experiment has been successfully predicted for 2–1800 alternative locations with the use of signal detection theory and the usual assumption that the observer’s internal response is Gaussian distributed. Gaussian uncorrelated noise is far from realistic medical image noise, which includes not only fluctuations in intensity of quantum origin but also other anatomical objects lying in the x-ray path (structured backgrounds). Our goal is to determine whether signal detection theory with the Gaussian assumption is adequate for the case of structured backgrounds, or whether other more complex models need to be developed to predict human performance as a function of the number of possible signal locations in structured backgrounds. We present experimental data suggesting that an assumed Gaussian internal response accurately predicts the decrease in observer performance as the number of alternative locations is increased. The one exception is a lower-than-predicted performance for the detection of low-contrast signals for two alternative locations. Performance as measured by the index of detectability d′ is also found to be linear with signal contrast. Together these findings extend the applicability of signal detection theory with Gaussian internal response functions to the case of complex structured backgrounds.
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