ISU prof finds laparoscopic surgeons improve speed, accuracy by playing video games

AMES, Iowa -- The first question laparoscopic surgery patients should ask prospective surgeons is "How many of these surgeries have you previously performed?" Maybe their second should be "Do you play video games?"

A study co-authored by an Iowa State University psychologist published in the February issue of the Archives of Surgery found that laparoscopic surgeons who previously played video games at least three hours a week made 37 percent fewer errors, were 27 percent faster, and scored 42 percent better overall than their non-playing colleagues when participating in a top laparoscopic training program. The surgeons among the top third in video gaming skills made 47 percent fewer errors and performed 39 percent faster than the other subjects in the study.

"We found that laparoscopic surgeons who played video games were quicker and more accurate, and you typically don't tend to see those two elements working together when it comes to surgery. So these were surprising results," said Douglas Gentile, an assistant professor of psychology at Iowa State and one of six authors of the paper titled "The Impact of Video Games on Training Surgeons in the 21st Century."

Dr. James Rosser, a surgeon at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York, was lead author on the study. Four other surgeons also collaborated on the research.

Thirty-three surgeons from Beth Israel Medical Center participated in the study -- 21 residents and 12 attending physicians, including 15 men and 18 women. Their specialties included general surgery (22), urology (2), and obstetrics/gynecology (9).

Surgeons tackle "Top Gun"

The research centered on the Rosser Top Gun Laparoscopic Skills and Suturing Program, which has been used to train thousands of laparoscopic surgeons worldwide. The goal of Top Gun is to build skill sets that enable surgeons to function effectively in the videoendoscopic surgical environment. It teaches surgeons inner-body suturing, perhaps the most challenging task in laparoscopy. Data was gathered during administration of the program over a three-and-a-half month period in 2002.

The study was conducted in three parts. The first was a questionnaire given to the subjects to assess prior video game play, surgical experience, and other demographic information. Nineteen reported playing video games at some point, including 10 who reported playing almost every day.

The Top Gun program was then administered over a day-and-a-half period, providing basic laparoscopic skills through a series of preparatory drills emphasizing non-dominant hand dexterity, two-handed coordination, two-dimensional depth perception compensation, and targeting.

The surgeons were also asked to play three over-the-counter video games that were chosen based on their applicability to development of specific skills required for completion of Top Gun. The three chosen games were "Super Money Ball 2" for Nintendo Gamecube, "Star Wars Racer Revenge" for Sony Playstation 2, and "Silent Scope" for Microsoft Xbox.

Video game play, skill cited as important

Consistently throughout the study, past amount of play, current amount of play, and demonstrated video game skill was found to not only be related to increased speed, but also decreased errors as determined through the Top Gun program. The researchers wrote that past and current video gaming capabilities were more important factors in laparoscopic skill than more traditionally recognized factors, such as years of training and number of laparoscopic cases. For that reason, they concluded that video games may be a practical teaching tool to help train laparoscopic surgeons.

"The big picture here is that video games have effects on multiple dimensions," said Gentile. "Other research has shown that amount of play matters, and the content of the game matters. Here, how you practice skills related to responding to information on a screen also matters.

"What shocks me the most is that surgeons weren't simply practicing the identical skills used in a surgical simulator," he said. "It was surprising that past commercial video game play was such a strong predictor of advanced surgical skills."

But gamers beware. Gentile emphasizes that the benefits of video game play was for three hours of play per week, not the nine hours per week average for teens today.

"Parents should not see this study as beneficial if their child is playing video games for over an hour a day," he said. "Spending that much time playing video games is not going to help their child's chances of getting into medical school."

Gentile, Iowa State Distinguished Professor of Psychology Craig Anderson, and ISU psychology doctoral student Katherine Buckley just published a book containing their most comprehensive study on some of the negative effects of video game playing titled "Violent Video Game Effects on Children and Adolescents" (Oxford University Press).