The easy-to-hard training advantage with real-world medical images

Brett D. Roads*, Buyun Xu, June K. Robinson, James W. Tanaka

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


Many medical professions require practitioners to perform visual categorizations in domains such as radiology, dermatology, and neurology. However, acquiring visual expertise is tedious and time-consuming and the perceptual strategies mediating visual categorization skills are poorly understood. In this paper, the Ease algorithm was developed to predict an item’s categorization difficulty (Ease value) based on the item’s perceptual similarity to all within-category items versus between-category items in the dataset. In this study, Ease values were used to construct an easy-to-hard and hard-to-easy training schedule for teaching melanoma diagnosis. Whereas previous visual training studies suggest that an easy-to-hard schedule benefits learning outcomes, no studies to date have demonstrated the easy-to-hard advantage with complex, real-world images. In our study, 237 melanoma and benign images were collected for training and testing purposes. The diagnostic accuracy of images was verified by an expert dermatologist. Based on their Ease values, the items were grouped into easy, medium, and hard categories, each containing an equal number of melanoma and benign lesions. During training, participants categorized images of skin lesions as either benign or melanoma and were given corrective feedback after each trial. In the easy-to-hard training condition, participants learned to categorize all the easy items first, followed by the medium items, and finally the hard items. Participants in the hard-to-easy training condition learned items in the reverse order. Post-training results showed that training in both conditions transferred to the classification of new melanoma and benign images. Participants in the easy-to-hard condition showed modest advantages both in the acquisition and retention of the melanoma diagnosis skills, but neither scheduling condition exhibited a gross advantage. The Ease values of the items predicted categorization accuracy after, but not before training, suggesting that the Ease algorithm is a promising tool for optimizing medical training in visual categorization.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number38
JournalCognitive Research: Principles and Implications
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 1 2018


  • Difficulty prediction
  • Melanoma diagnosis
  • Training procedure
  • Trial scheduling
  • Visual categorization

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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