Learning basic surgical skills with mental imagery: using the simulation centre in the mind

Med Educ. 2008 Jun;42(6):607-12. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2923.2007.02964.x. Epub 2008 Apr 23.


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.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Attitude of Health Personnel
  • Education, Medical, Undergraduate / methods*
  • Eidetic Imagery*
  • General Surgery / education*
  • Humans
  • Imagination
  • Mental Processes
  • Self-Assessment
  • Students, Medical / psychology
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Teaching / methods*