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Clin Anat. 2000;13(6):439-43.

Approaches to learning spatial relationships in gross anatomy: perspective from wider principles of learning.

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Department of Anatomy and Structural Biology, Otago School of Medical Sciences, University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand.


When students learn spatial relationships in gross anatomy, as in other areas of study, fundamentals should be learned first; otherwise confusion results. The fundamentals in gross anatomy are defined not in conceptual terms but by principles of visual perception. In particular, they derive from Gestalt principles such as collinearity and symmetry, which generally make learning and recognition of visual patterns easier. The collinearity (straight line formations) and symmetry in the body cavities are obvious when one studies the empty cavities, or body cavities with only a few symmetrical structures in place. These principles are, however, totally obscured if one starts one's study, as in traditional dissection, with the body cavities crammed full of a complex mass of interlocking organs. and their ducts, vessels, etc. Therefore, it is recommended that learning gross anatomy (especially of the body cavities) would be an easier exercise if it started with empty body cavities, then building up, with a careful sequence of prosections, to the more complex and realistic anatomy of the full cavities. This system of learning is perceptually preferable to traditional dissection. However, it needs to be enlivened in several ways, e.g., with respect to design principles evident in anatomical structure (especially for the musculoskeletal system), developmental processes, and sometimes by explicit reference to clinical relevance.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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