Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Study Links Surgeons' Competence to Video Game Proficiency

Study Links Surgeons' Competence to Video Game Proficiency
By Denise Gellene
Los Angeles Times

Worried that kids spend too much time playing video games? Take heart, they may become great surgeons. New research Monday found that surgeons with the highest scores on ``Super Monkey Ball 2,'' ``Stars Wars Racer Revenge'' and ``Silent Scope'' performed best on tests of suturing and laparoscopic surgery.

Doctors who had played video games at least three hours a week sometime in their past worked 27 percent faster and made 37 percent fewer errors on the surgical tasks compared to those who had never picked up a game controller, according to the study.

``For as little as three hours a week, you could help your children become the cyber-surgeons of the 21st century,'' said Dr. James C. Rosser Jr. of Beth Israel Medical Center in New York and lead author of the study in the Archives of Surgery.

The research looked at 33 surgeons attending a course on laparoscopic surgery and found that their game-playing skill was a better predictor of success on the surgical tests than years of medical practice or number of surgeries performed.

Expertise with ``Super Monkey Ball 2,'' which involves steering a ball containing a monkey down a serpentine track while simultaneously targeting bananas, was most closely linked with high test scores.

Dr. Myriam J. Curet, a Stanford University surgeon who wrote an accompanying critique, cautioned against uncontrolled gaming, which has also been linked with aggressive behavior and bad grades.

The study agreed, saying ``indiscriminate video game play is not a panacea.''

Properly channeled, game playing can foster the hand-eye coordination and fine-motor skills needed by laparoscopic surgeons, who rely on television monitors to guide them during surgery, said Rosser, who plays video games five to six hours a week.

``Where did you go to school? Did you pass your boards?
... Patients may also ask their doctors, `Are you a 'Super Monkey Ball player?' ''


Psychology textbooks frequently criticize video games, citing studies that show violent video games beget violent behavior in real life too. It's great to see studies that show video games, albeit non-violent ones, can actually have a positive effect.

I definitely do think the key is to limit the amount of videogame play a budding surgeon, or any other child, indulges in. Three hours a week isn't that much, but it appears to make a difference. Any more than that and other important skills may fail to be developed. You might end up with the equivalent of a kid who exercises only his right arm, lifting heavier and heavier weights until his right arm so outpaces his left arm in strength that he not only looks ridiculously unbalanced, but is left with a left arm so atrophied it's useless.

I don't know if my surgeon played videogames, but he's got a track record of not making mistakes, so he must have developed an impressive degree of hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills somewhere.

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