A signal detection model is presented that combines a signal model and a noise model providing mathematical descriptions of the frequency of appearance of the signals, and of the signal-like features naturally occurring in the background. We derive expressions for the likelihood functions for the whole ensemble of observed suspicious locations, in various possible combinations of signals and false signal candidates. As a result, this formalism is able to describe several new types of detection tests using likelihood ratio statistics. We have a global image abnormality test and an individual signal detection test. The model also provides an alternative mechanism in which is selected the combination of signal and noise features candidates that has the maximum likelihood. These tests can be analyzed with a variety of operating characteristic curves (ROC, LROC, FROC, etc.). In the mathematical formalism of the model, all the details characterizing the suspicious features are reduced to a single scalar function, which we name the signal specificity function, representing the frequency that a signal takes a certain value relative to the frequency of having a false signal with the same value in an image of given size. The signal specificity function ranks the degree of suspiciousness of the features found, and can be used to unify into a single score all the suspicious feature characteristics, and then apply the usual decision conventions as in the Swensson’s detection model [Med. Phys. 23, 1709–1725 (1996)]. We present several examples in which these tests are compared. We also show how the signal specificity function can be used to model various degrees of accuracy of the observer’s knowledge about image noise and signal statistical properties. Aspects concerning modeling of the human observer are also discussed
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