Objective: To explore how the 2 most important components of surgical performance--speed and accuracy-are influenced by different forms of stress and what the impact of music is on these factors.
Background: On the basis of a recently published pilot study on surgical experts, we designed an experiment examining the effects of auditory stress, mental stress, and music on surgical performance and learning and then correlated the data psychometric measures to the role of music in a novice surgeon's life.
Methods: Thirty-one surgeons were recruited for a crossover study. Surgeons were randomized to 4 simple standardized tasks to be performed on the SurgicalSIM VR laparoscopic simulator (Medical Education Technologies, Inc, Sarasota, FL), allowing exact tracking of speed and accuracy. Tasks were performed under a variety of conditions, including silence, dichotic music (auditory stress), defined classical music (auditory relaxation), and mental loading (mental arithmetic tasks). Tasks were performed twice to test for memory consolidation and to accommodate for baseline variability. Performance was correlated to the brief Musical Experience Questionnaire (MEQ).
Results: Mental loading influences performance with respect to accuracy, speed, and recall more negatively than does auditory stress. Defined classical music might lead to minimally worse performance initially but leads to significantly improved memory consolidation. Furthermore, psychologic testing of the volunteers suggests that surgeons with greater musical commitment, measured by the MEQ, perform worse under the mental loading condition.
Conclusions: Mental distraction and auditory stress negatively affect specific components of surgical learning and performance. If used appropriately, classical music may positively affect surgical memory consolidation. It also may be possible to predict surgeons' performance and learning under stress through psychological tests on the role of music in a surgeon's life. Further investigation is necessary to determine the cognitive processes behind these correlations.