Camouflage is one of the natural world’s sneakiest inventions, allowing both predators and prey to outwit one another. Unsurprisingly, humans have also found a way to mimic this natural disguise for nefarious means during warfare, although new research suggests that anyone can be trained to easily see through camouflage in just two weeks.
The technique was first developed back in 2012 and was described in a study that appeared in the journal Psychological Science. Over a two-week period, non-military participants spent one hour a day learning to scan the background of a series of images, after which they displayed an impressive capacity to discern whether or not a camouflaged target was lurking in a given scene.
However, this training method was only designed to increase the awareness that something is awry and wasn’t intended to help individuals actually locate or identify specific hidden targets.
Publishing a new study in the journal Cognitive Research: Principles and Implications, the same researchers note that “it remains unclear whether such expert subjects can actually detect the target in this task, or just vaguely sense that the two classes of images are somehow different, without being able to find the target per se.”
To investigate, the team recruited six people to undergo the same training method, before testing their ability to identify camouflaged elements within a range of images. Participants were presented with one of three different backgrounds, made up of either fruit, foliage, or nuts. Half of these images contained a hidden feature, which was either a human head or a novel 3D shape.
During some trials, subjects were allowed to view the scenes for as long as they wanted, before later pointing out the position of any targets that they perceived against the background. On other occasions, they were only given a twentieth of a second to scan the images, and therefore had barely enough time to move their eyes around.
Not only were these trained individuals able to locate the hidden targets, but they were almost as good at doing so when only given a fraction of a second to inspect the images as they were when no time restrictions were in place. Furthermore, these camouflage-busters were found to be equally adept at identifying concealed targets as non-trained individuals were at spotting obvious anomalies, such as a black T-shape among a sea of white L-shapes.
“We show that when subjects break camouflage, they can also localize the camouflaged target accurately, even though they had received no specific training in localizing the target,” write the study authors.
Unsurprisingly, this method is expected to find its major application in military contexts, with the researchers noting that it may help combatants to rapidly identify hidden enemy snipers.