Investigating the utility of VR for spatial understanding in surgical planning: evaluation of head-mounted to desktop display

Research output: Contribution to journalResearch articleContributedpeer-review


Recent technological advances have made Virtual Reality (VR) attractive in both research and real world applications such as training, rehabilitation, and gaming. Although these other fields benefited from VR technology, it remains unclear whether VR contributes to better spatial understanding and training in the context of surgical planning. In this study, we evaluated the use of VR by comparing the recall of spatial information in two learning conditions: a head-mounted display (HMD) and a desktop screen (DT). Specifically, we explored (a) a scene understanding and then (b) a direction estimation task using two 3D models (i.e., a liver and a pyramid). In the scene understanding task, participants had to navigate the rendered the 3D models by means of rotation, zoom and transparency in order to substantially identify the spatial relationships among its internal objects. In the subsequent direction estimation task, participants had to point at a previously identified target object, i.e., internal sphere, on a materialized 3D-printed version of the model using a tracked pointing tool. Results showed that the learning condition (HMD or DT) did not influence participants’ memory and confidence ratings of the models. In contrast, the model type, that is, whether the model to be recalled was a liver or a pyramid significantly affected participants’ memory about the internal structure of the model. Furthermore, localizing the internal position of the target sphere was also unaffected by participants’ previous experience of the model via HMD or DT. Overall, results provide novel insights on the use of VR in a surgical planning scenario and have paramount implications in medical learning by shedding light on the mental model we make to recall spatial structures.


Original languageEnglish
Article number13440
JournalScientific reports
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2021

External IDs

RIS Hattab2021
Scopus 85108941878
ORCID /0000-0002-6673-9591/work/142242360