Going through airport security is a lesson in patience for even the most Zen traveler, but the good news is that those frustratingly slow security screenings might actually be more effective. According to a new study, TSA screeners who take their time are more successful at identifying targets like weapons or restricted items.
The study pitted TSA agents against Ivy League college students to test how well each group conducted a visual search. The experiment was simple and tested natural search skills (searching for a particular shape on a computer screen) – so the TSA screeners had no advantage over the students. The results showed that the college students were faster at completing the tasks but the TSA agents were more accurate.
Stephen Mitroff, the psychologist heading up the research, told NBC news that the TSA screeners were slower because they were more methodical, which is ultimately what led to better results. "Our interpretation is those who are most experienced have found their strategy and use it the same way over and over – whether you spiral through the bag or are zig-zagging left and right. If you're always doing the strategy and always doing it consistently, you're freeing up your cognitive resources – your other abilities to try to identify targets," he said.
The research is part of a larger study being conducted by the Department of Homeland Security.