Human Factors

Learning complex motor procedures-Schmettow


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


The study explores individual differences in how quick and well people learn complex motor procedures, such as tying a sailor knot. We wish to understand whether a person’s disposition to acquire complex motor procedures can validly be assessed using everyday “dexterity” tasks, such as tying a knot or other games of skill.


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 spatial orientation and motor dexterity. Many studies attempted to predict MIS skills by classic experimental tests, but most failed. In collaboration with the department for Technical Medicine at the UT, we attempt a reboot. Our assumption is that development of complex skills may be better viewed holistically, rather than thinking in cognitive components. If that is true, a person’s ability to learn a complex task is best predicted by … letting the person learn a complex task. This principle is reminiscent of what is done in usability testing of software or assessment centers for recruitment.

The thesis project

In your thesis you will


Write a brief literature overview on performance in minimally invasive surgery.


Read about the estimation of learning curves in Psychology.


Design several games of skill, such as tying a sailor knot


Recruit a sample of participants via SONA and your own social network


Run an experiment, where you observe participants while learning a variety of dexterity tasks


Interpret the estimated learning curves and assess correlations between different tasks.


Discuss your findings and shed new light on the issue of predicting motor task performance.


This is a group assignment for 2 students.


Groenier, M., Schraagen, J. M. C., Miedema, H. A. T., & Broeders, I. A. J. M. (2014). The role of cognitive abilities in laparoscopic simulator training. Advances in Health Sciences Education : Theory and Practice, 19(2), 203–17. doi:10.1007/s10459-013-9455-7