Imagine showing up for a job interview and being asked to have your brain scanned. Or perhaps you’ve had some trouble at work, and human resources decide you need to undergo a brain scan to test your skills.
A new study published in Science Advances examined the brain activity of both skilled surgeons and novices. Researchers were able to distinguish key differences between the two. It is possible noninvasive brain scans could be used in the future to calculate performance among doctors and other highly skilled professionals.
In the study, “Assessing bimanual motor skills with optical neuroimaging,” participants’ brain activity was monitored through a cap embedded with tiny lasers and using functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS).
The authors write: “Measuring motor skill proficiency is critical for the certification of highly skilled individuals in numerous fields. However, conventional measures use subjective metrics that often cannot distinguish between expertise levels.”
The American Board of Surgery currently requires proficiency through its Fundamentals of Laparoscopic Surgery (FLS), which can have inconsistencies in score interpretations. The team of researchers believe its method is a better way to determine proficiency because the noninvasive technique is not subjective.
According to the Wall Street Journal, the study included 30 surgeons and trainees who performed pattern-cutting tasks, which are required for certification. The laser-embedded caps detected changing levels of oxygenated blood flowing to the brain, indicating activity in specific areas. A machine-learning system was used to evaluate the scans.
Novice surgeons had a spike in activity in the prefrontal cortex, an area of the brain that is in charge of planning complex behaviour. Meanwhile, activity in the primary cortex, which covers motor function, decreased as did activity in the supplemental motor area, which involves control of movement.
Conversely, skilled surgeons experienced an uptick in activity in the motor cortex.
These noninvasive brain scans may help predict which surgeons have particular skills, and the procedure may also apply to other types of professionals.
The researchers explained that the scans “may be expanded to robustly identify and predict surgical candidates that may achieve faster learning curves for learning complex surgical skills, and by extension, achieve surgical skill mastery with a significantly faster rate than other surgical trainees.
“Furthermore, these methodologies can be easily applied to other fields, including rehabilitation, brain-computer interfaces, robotics, stroke, and rehabilitation therapy.”