Cognitive Daily

Video gamers make better surgeons

When Greta and I met with her surgeon a few years back in preparation for a minor surgery, he offered an unusual qualification for the job: he was an avid video game player. He believed that playing video games improved his ability to perform surgery. Many surgeries are now performed remotely, with a very small incision and a video camera to monitor progress, and he claimed the skills involved weren’t much different from those he had acquired from years of zapping aliens on his TV.

Turns out, he was probably on to something. A new study has confirmed that surgeons who spend more time playing video games are faster and make fewer errors than those who spend less time with video games:

“Surgeons who had played video games in the past for more than three hours per week made 37 percent fewer errors [in the Top Gun course], were 27 percent faster and scored 42 percent better overall than surgeons who never played video games. Current video game players made 32 percent fewer errors, were 24 percent faster and scored 26 percent better overall than their non-player colleagues,” the authors write. Those in the top one-third of video gaming skill made 47 percent fewer errors, performed 39 percent faster and scored 41 percent better on the overall Top Gun score than those in the bottom one-third.

It’s not clear from this summary of the data whether the difference between current and past gaming behavior is significant, but it’s interesting to note that while past gamers were 42 percent better overall, current gamers were just 26 percent better. If this difference is statistically significant, it means the best surgeons were those who played in the past, but don’t play now.

The study authors speculate that training surgeons with video games might improve their skills. Another possibility, of course, is that people who like video games have innate skills that transfer well to surgery. Maybe instead of training surgeons with games, we need to recruit surgeons based on their skill level in World of Warcraft.


  1. #1 lar
    February 20, 2007

    My first thought about the difference between active players and those who played in the past was that the active players are probably younger and therefore more inexperienced than those who played in the past. But, of course, I may be missing some knowledge on this part…

  2. #2 zayzayem
    February 20, 2007

    It could also be that current (popular) games don’t quite require the skill (or the same sort of skills) as past games. maybe Surgeons should crack out their ataris?

  3. #3 David Pinkerton
    February 20, 2007

    I agree with zayzayem – old games tended, more often, to emphasise reflexive and co-ordinative skills. Games such as WoW depend only negligibly upon hand-eye co-ordination and are hardly skill-based!

    Interesting results from the study, however. I am glad to see that you mentioned that “…people who like video games have innate skills that transfer well to surgery”. So often people find a correlation and jump to (wrong) conclusions.


  4. #4 Jason I.
    February 21, 2007

    Of course, now they’re actually making video games out of being a surgeon (Trauma Center on the Wii and DS). Perhaps those playing video games today at a young age will be the best surgeons of all.

  5. #5 Alvaro
    February 21, 2007

    Has anyone seen a good breakdown of the cognitive skills involved in being a good surgeon? that should be the starting point for this conversation.

New comments have been disabled.