Do you spank your kids when they leave their books to play video games? If yes, you may unknowingly be stopping them from developing valuable surgical skills for scientists say that today’s gamer may be tomorrow’s top surgeon.
Canadian scientists say that gaming can improve a person’s ability to make quick and accurate observations, and also helps prepare surgeons for sophisticated visuomotor tasks necessary for complicated surgical procedures, especially laparoscopic surgeries.
A laparoscope is an instrument in the shape of a tube that is inserted through the abdominal wall to give an examining doctor a view of the internal organs. In laparoscopic, or minimally invasive surgeries, surgeons use small incisions, thin surgical tools, and video cameras.
Video games have been criticised as dangerous for children. The charges go thus: they can lead to compulsive behaviour, loss of interest in other activities, association mainly with other addicts, and unusual symptoms when addicts are denied their favourite pastime
But if what the Canadian study found is anything to go by, then video gamers who dream of becoming surgeons should rejoice because they are already on the path of a successful career.
However, it is not every video game that enhances surgical skills. According to the researchers, it is only the ones that require delicate and precise movements that can enhance surgical skills.
The study involved 26 males in their 20s. While 13 of them played video games for a minimum of four hours a week for up to three years, the other 13 did not play video games at all. Both groups were asked to complete visuomotor tasks such as using a joystick to complete a task or look one way while reaching in the opposite direction.
The non-gamers used their parietal cortex, which integrates spatial sensory information, while gamers used their prefrontal cortex instead, according to the study’s findings.
The prefrontal cortex, according to a www.pcworld.com, quoting a 2002 scientific paper titled, The prefrontal cortex: categories, concepts and cognition, “receives highly processed information from all major forebrain systems, and neurophysiological studies suggest that it synthesises this into representations of learned task contingencies, concepts and task rules,”
Lauren Sergio, an associate professor in the Faculty of Health at York University in Ontario, Canada said, “By using high resolution brain imaging, we were able to actually measure which brain areas were activated at a given time during the experiment. We tested how the skills learned from video game experience can transfer over to new tasks, rather than just looking at brain activity while the subject plays a video game.”
But the Canadian study only confirmed the findings of earlier studies linking video games with enhanced surgical skills.
Studies presented to the American Psychological Association convention held in Boston in August 2008, demonstrated that surgeons who played video games worked more quickly and performed with less errors than those who didn’t play video games.
One of the studies compared surgeons who played video games with those who didn’t. Even after taking into account differences in age, years of medical training, and the number of laparoscopic surgeries performed, researchers found an edge for gamer surgeons.
In one study of 33 laparoscopic surgeons, the researchers found that those who played video games were 27 per cent faster at advanced surgical procedures and made 37 per cent fewer errors than those who didn’t. Advanced video game skills were also a good way to predict suturing capabilities.
A second study looking at 303 laparoscopic surgeons found that those who played video games requiring spatial skills and hand dexterity performed better at those skills when tested later, compared with surgeons who didn’t play videos.
There were several factors determining whether games help hone surgical skills, including how often they are played, the content, what a player has to pay attention to on the screen, and how players control the motions, according to Iowa State University psychologist, Douglas Gentile.
“The single best predictor of their skills is how much they had played video games in the past and how much they played now. Those were better predictors of surgical skills than years of training and number of surgeries performed,” Gentile said. “So the first question you might ask your surgeon is how many of these [surgeries] have you done and the second question is, ‘Are you a gamer?’”
A plastic surgeon at the Federal Medical Centre, Owerri, Imo State, Dr. Chuka Ahachi, agrees that playing video games can enhance surgical skills. According to him, “playing video games trains one to take split-seconds decisions which can be replicated in real life situations like in performing surgeries such as laparoscopic surgery.”