Background A common strategy to increase learner engagement is to interweave educational material with interesting but slightly tangential tidbits of information (eg, “war stories” and funny anecdotes), known as seductive details. Our objective was to examine the impact of seductive details on initial acquisition and transfer of basic laparoscopic surgical skills. Methods Novices (first- to fourth-year medical students) were randomized into control (N = 47) or seductive details (N = 42) groups. Curricula consisted of a baseline skills assessment (Fundamentals of Laparoscopic Surgery Task 1), instructional video on intracorporeal laparoscopic suturing (Fundamentals of Laparoscopic Surgery Task 5), multiple choice quiz, practice, and assessment on both primary and transfer tasks. Two separate instructional videos were used for Task 5; 20% of the seductive details group's instructional video consisted of seductive details, whereas the control group's video included no seductive details. Participants completed questionnaires of mental workload and task engagement after training. We also conducted a mediation analysis, which is a statistical approach to identify causal paths among a group of variables. Results Baseline skill scores (control: 112 ± 52; standard deviation: 118 ± 56; 0 = lowest possible score; 600 = highest possible score) and knowledge scores (control: 76 ± 19; standard deviation: 74 ± 16; 0 = lowest possible score; 100 = highest possible score) were similar for both groups. The control group demonstrated better (higher) performance on both the primary (434 ± 193 vs 399 ± 133, P < .05) and transfer (184 ± 74 vs 149 ± 91, P < .05) suturing tasks. Mental workload, as measured by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration–Task Load Index, was more demanding (higher) for the seductive details group (3.8 ± 0.5 vs 3.4 ± 0.7, P < .01; 1 = low workload; 5 = high workload) and was investigated as the possible mechanism by which group assignment impacted performance. Mediational paths using hierarchical regression were significant (P < .05), suggesting that trainees in the seductive details group performed worse because of their increased workload. Conclusion Our findings suggest that the inclusion of seductive details may be detrimental to the acquisition and transfer of laparoscopic surgical skills due to increased mental workload for trainees.
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