CCTV plays a prominent role in public security, health and safety. Monitoring large arrays of CCTV camera feeds is a visually and cognitively demanding task. Arranging the scenes by geographical proximity in the surveilled environment has been recommended to reduce this demand, but empirical tests of this method have failed to find any benefit. The present study tests an alternative method for arranging scenes, based on psychological principles from literature on visual search and scene perception: grouping scenes by semantic similarity. Searching for a particular scene in the array—a common task in reactive and proactive surveillance—was faster when scenes were arranged by semantic category. This effect was found only when scenes were separated by gaps for participants who were not made aware that scenes in the multiplex were grouped by semantics (Experiment 1), but irrespective of whether scenes were separated by gaps or not for participants who were made aware of this grouping (Experiment 2). When target frequency varied between scene categories—mirroring unequal distributions of crime over space—the benefit of organising scenes by semantic category was enhanced for scenes in the most frequently searched-for category, without any statistical evidence for a cost when searching for rarely searched-for categories (Experiment 3). The findings extend current understanding of the role of within-scene semantics in visual search, to encompass between scene semantic relationships. Furthermore, the findings suggest that arranging scenes in the CCTV control room by semantic category is likely to assist operators in finding specific scenes during surveillance.
- Visual search