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Anat Sci Educ. 2011 Jan-Feb;4(1):1-8. doi: 10.1002/ase.196. Epub 2011 Jan 17.

Spatial abilities of expert clinical anatomists: comparison of abilities between novices, intermediates, and experts in anatomy.

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  • 1Centre for Learning Anatomical Sciences, Faculty of Medicine, University of Southampton, Tremona Road, Southampton, Hampshire, United Kingdom.


Spatial ability has been found to be a good predictor of success in learning anatomy. However, little research has explored whether spatial ability can be improved through anatomy education and experience. This study had two aims: (1) to determine if spatial ability is a learned or inherent facet in learning anatomy and (2) to ascertain if there is any difference in spatial ability between experts and novices in anatomy. Fifty participants were identified: 10 controls, 10 novices, 10 intermediates, and 20 experts. Participants completed four computerized spatial ability tasks, a visual mental rotation task, categorical spatial judgment task, metric spatial task, and an image-scanning task. The findings revealed that experts (P = 0.007) and intermediates (P = 0.016) were better in the metric spatial task than novices in terms of making more correct spatial judgments. Experts (P = 0.033), intermediates (P = 0.003), and novices (P = 0.004) were better in the categorical spatial task than controls in terms of speed of responses. These results suggest that certain spatial cognitive abilities are especially important and characteristic of work needed in clinical anatomy, and that education and experience contribute to further development of these abilities.

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