Surgeons who have played video games for more than three hours a week at some point in their lives outperform those who have never played the games when it comes to skills involved in "keyhole surgery," an unusual new study found.

"Surgeons who had played video games in the past for more than three hours per week made 37 percent fewer errors, were 27 percent faster, and scored 42 percent better overall than surgeons who never played video games," the researchers wrote. "Current video game players made 32 percent fewer errors, were 24 percent faster, and scored 26 percent better overall than their nonplayer colleagues."

The speed and errors were measured during simulation exercises that are widely used to train surgeons to perform laparoscopic procedures. The technique is usually less traumatic for patients because the operations are done through tiny incisions, but it calls for unusual dexterity and hand-eye coordination as doctors manipulate their instruments while looking at images on a television monitor.

The study tested 33 surgeons at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York. It also showed that the opposite was true -- surgeons with superior laparoscopic skills did better at playing three video games -- Super Monkey Ball 2, where a player "pilots a spherical ball around a dynamic undulating course," Star Wars Racer Revenge, where players "navigated a serpentine canyon track," and Silent Scope, which asks players to "shoot as many screen targets as possible in 2 minutes 30 seconds," the study said.

The small study, led by James C. Rosser at Beth Israel's Department of Surgery and published this month in the Archives of General Surgery, argues that surgeons may benefit from having video games included in their training courses.

-- Shankar Vedantam