Context: Although surgeons and athletes frequently use mental imagery in preparing to perform, mental imagery has not been extensively researched as a learning technique in medical education.
Objective: A mental imagery rehearsal technique was experimentally compared with textbook study to determine the effects of each on the learning of basic surgical skills.
Methods: Sixty-four Year 2 medical students were randomly assigned to 2 treatment groups in which they undertook either mental imagery or textbook study. Both groups received the usual skills course of didactic lectures, demonstrations, physical practice with pigs' feet and a live animal laboratory. One group received additional training in mental imagery and the other group was given textbook study. Performance was assessed at 3 different time-points using a reliable rating scale.
Results: Analysis of variance on student performance in live rabbit surgery revealed a significant interaction favouring the imagery group over the textbook study group.
Conclusions: The mental imagery technique appeared to transfer learning from practice to actual surgery better than textbook study.