Feb. 21, 2007 -- Playing video games may make for sharper surgeons, a new study shows.
The study shows that surgeons who have a history of playing video games for more than three hours per week may be faster and more accurate in certain video-assisted surgery training tests than surgeons who have never played video games.
"These were surprising results," says Iowa State University's Douglas Gentile, PhD, in a news release.
Gentile and colleagues conducted the study, which appears in the Archives of Surgery.
The study doesn't support overindulging in video games.
"Parents should not see this study as beneficial if their child is playing video games for over an hour a day," Gentile says. "Spending that much time playing video games is not going to help their child's chances of getting into medical school."
Gentile's team studied 33 surgeons, including 21 surgical residents, who are relatively new doctors getting postgraduate training.
The surgeons attended a 1.5-day workshop in laparoscopic surgery, which uses video technology to help doctors operate through a small incision.
The surgeons weren't total novices at laparoscopic surgery. The residents had done an average of 46 laparoscopic surgeries, compared with an average of 236 laparoscopic surgeries done by the more experienced doctors.
The surgeons completed questionnaires about their video game use.
More than half of the surgeons -- 58% -- reported playing video games at some point in their lives. They had played for nearly eight years, on average.
Among the video game players, nearly half reported playing video games for at least three hours weekly at the height of their game-playing days.
During the laparoscopy workshop, the surgeons took various tests (none of which involved patients) to gauge their laparoscopy surgery speed and accuracy.
The surgeons with a history of playing video games for more than three hours per week were the fastest and most accurate on the laparoscopy surgery tests.
Those doctors "made 37% fewer errors, were 27% faster, and scored 42% better overall than surgeons who never played video games," write the researchers.
The researchers asked the surgeons to play one of three video games for 25 minutes before the workshop ended.
Those games were Super Monkey Ball 2, in which players are timed while piloting a ball through a constantly changing course; Star Warts Racer Revenge, in which players race against others through a winding canyon; and Silent Scope, in which players shoot as many targets as possible in 2.5 minutes.
The top scorers in each of those games made 47% fewer errors, performed 39% faster, and scored 41% better overall in their laparoscopy tests, the study shows.
Don't Go Overboard
"Video game skill correlates with laparoscopic surgical skill," the researchers write.
But they warn that their findings don't prove that video games were the sole reason why some surgeons were faster and more accurate than others.
The study doesn't support "indiscriminate video game play," note the researchers.
Today's teens play video games for nine hours per week, according to background information in the study. That's far more time than the average time logged by the surgeons in their game-playing heyday.
Spending too much time playing video games has been linked to childhood obesity and other problems, the researchers note.
The study is accompanied by a critique by Myriam Curet, MD, of Stanford University's surgery department.
Curet points out that the study doesn't show how the workshop test scores translate into real-world surgeries on patients.
"We should consider using video games as another tool to help surgeons reach competency," Curet writes.
But more studies are needed before video games become part of surgical training "or before we relax our concerns about video game playing among children," writes Curet.