To assess the impact of multitasking and time pressure on surgeons’ brain function during laparoscopic suturing.
Summary Background Data:
Recent neuroimaging evidence suggests that deterioration in surgical performance under time pressure is associated with deactivation of the prefrontal cortex (PFC), an area important for executive functions. However, the effect of multitasking on operator brain function remains unknown.
Twenty-nine surgical residents performed an intracorporeal suturing task under four conditions: 1) self-paced suturing, 2) time-pressured suturing, 3) self-paced suturing plus decision-making, and 4) time-pressured suturing plus decision-making. Subjective workload was quantified using the Surgical Task Load Index. Technical skill was objectively assessed using task progression scores, error scores, leak volumes, and knot tensile strengths. PFC activation was measured using optical neuroimaging.
Compared with self-paced suturing, subjective workload (au) was significantly greater in time-pressured suturing (146.0 vs 196.0, P < 0.001), suturing with decision-making (146.0 vs 182.0, P < 0.001), and time-pressured suturing with decision-making (146.0 vs 227.0, P < 0.001). Technical performance during combined suturing and decision-making tasks was inferior to suturing alone under time pressure or self-paced conditions (P < 0.001). Significant dorsolateral PFC (DLPFC) activations were observed during self-paced suturing, and ventrolateral PFC (VLPFC) deactivations were identified during time-pressured suturing. However, suturing in conjunction with decision-making resulted in significant deactivation across both the VLPFC and DLPFC (P < 0.05). Random effects regression analysis confirmed decision-making predicts VLPFC and DLPFC deactivation (z = −2.62, P < 0.05).
Performance degradation during high workload conditions is associated with deactivation of prefrontal regions important for attentional control, working memory, and cognitive flexibility, particularly during tasks involving simultaneous motor and cognitive engagement.