Mathematical observers that track human performance can be used to reduce the number of human observer studies needed to optimize imaging systems. The performance of human observers for the detection of a lung nodule in anatomical backgrounds was measured as a function of varying tomosynthetic angle and compared with mathematical observers. The human observer results showed a dramatic increase in the percent of correct responses, from 80% in the projection images to 96% in the projection images with a tomosynthetic angle of just 3 degrees. This result suggests the potential usefulness of the scanned beam digital x-ray system for this application. Given the small number of images (40) used per tomosynthetic angle and the highly nonstationary statistical nature of the backgrounds, the nonprewhitening eye observer achieved a higher performance than the channelized Hotelling observer using a Laguerre-Gauss basis. The channelized Hotelling observer with internal noise and the eye filter matched to the projection data were shown to track human performance as the tomosynthetic angle changed. The validation of these mathematical observers extends their applicability to the optimization of tomosynthesis systems.