Future Surgeon Prerequisite: Video Gaming

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Laparoscopic Surgery

Video gamers rejoice, your potential future career as a surgeon just got a little less daunting. Forget a morbidly precocious interest in Gray's Anatomy at some tender age, if you play video games, you're already on a trajectory toward a career involving advanced surgical techniques.

Canadian research scientists recently found that hand-eye skills developed by gaming--no great surprise here--train the brain for sophisticated visuomotor tasks, tuning skills necessary for complex surgical procedures involving images displayed on a video screen. Skills such as laparoscopic surgery, for instance.

The study involved 13 males in their twenties who'd played video games a minimum of four hours a week for the prior three years, compared with 13 males who hadn't. Both groups were asked to complete tricky visuomotor tasks, such as using a joystick to accomplish specific goals, or looking one way while reaching in the opposite direction.

"By using high resolution brain imaging, we were able to actually measure which brain areas were activated at a given time during the experiment," said Lauren Sergio, associate professor in the Faculty of Health at York University in Ontario.

"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."

Non-gamers tend to use their parietal cortex, which integrates spatial sensory information, according to the study's results, while the group of gamers (or those with more recent gaming experience, anyway) used their prefrontal cortex instead.

What's the difference? The prefrontal cortex "receives highly processed information from all major forebrain systems, and neurophysiological studies suggest that it synthesizes this into representations of learned task contingencies, concepts and task rules," according to a 2002 scientific paper titled "The prefrontal cortex: categories, concepts and cognition."

"In short, the prefrontal cortex seems to underlie our internal representations of the 'rules of the game'. This may provide the necessary foundation for the complex behavior of primates, in whom this structure is most elaborate."

The other spot of good news: The York researchers believe this could be a major breakthrough for Alzheimer's patients, whose visuomotor skills can become severely impaired as the disease progresses.

The study doesn't indicate what type of games lead to prefrontal versus parietal brain area use, but it's something the York research group hopes to determine in the future, as well as whether gender plays a role.

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