Human Factors

Getting lost in the anatomy: Surgical navigation in minimally invasive surgery


Dr. Martin Schmettow (Cognitive Psychology and Ergonomics, UT)

Dr. Marleen Groenier (Technical Medicine, UT)


The aim of the study is to improve minimally invasive surgical training. We wish to understand which factors influence the learning curve for minimally invasive surgical procedures to develop individualized training programs.


Learning to perform minimally invasive surgical procedures (‘keyhole’ surgery) differs from learning to perform regular, open surgical procedures. During the first procedures that a surgeon performs the risk of complications is increased compared to open surgical procedures. Surgical errors are related to ergonomic factors, such as the technology used, human (cognitive) factors and the amount of training a surgeon has received (Gallagher & Smith, 2003).

Minimally invasive surgery

Minimally invasive surgery places high demands on human perception and spatial orientation. Surgeons have to translate 2D images from a monitor into 3D information of the human body. Furthermore, hand-eye coordination is limited because surgeons do not have a direct view of the area where they are operating. These limitations often cause surgeons to have the feeling of ‘ being lost in the anatomy’ and results in disorientation.

In the current study we investigate to what extent navigation abilities are related to learning to perform minimally invasive surgical procedures.

Methods & Analysis

In collaboration with a researcher from the department of Technical Medicine (UT) you are going to develop, execute, and analyze an experiment designed to establish the influence of navigation ability on learning to perform basic laparoscopic tasks. The training technology (simulators) and navigation test are provided by the department of Technical Medicine.

Additional information

It is possible to do this assignment in collaboration with another student.


Gallagher, A. G., & Smith, C. D. (2003). Human factors lessons learned from the minimally invasive surgery revolution. Surgical Innovation, 10, 127-139.

Luursema, J-M., Verwey, W. B., & Burie, R. (2012). Visuospatial ability factors and performance variables in laparoscopic simulator training. Learning and Individual Differences, 22, 632-638.