BACKGROUND: This study aimed to quantify learner reactions manifesting from a realistic contextual stressor while training with a laparoscopic simulator, and to identify learner-derived stress-modifying behaviors. Stress factors are known to affect cognitive and psychomotor performance. Simulation-based medical training typically occurs in environments that are relatively stress free compared with the applied context. Training is most effective when it occurs in a highly faithful context, so the inclusion of typical clinical stressors in simulated laparoscopic learning environments may be beneficial. METHODS: Preclinical medical students (N = 27) completed tasks using a laparoscopic simulator under the following 2 conditions: faculty direct observation (stressor) and unobserved (no stressor). The data included simulator performance, blood pressure, real-time heart rates, videotaped behavior, and pre/post surveys of latent anxiety and stress factors associated with participating in the research (eg, STAI 9). RESULTS: Physiologic and behavioral manifestations of stress were observed for all participants during the stressor condition and during poor performance on simulator tasks. Stress was highest during periods of poor performance under the stressor condition. Focusing on the task itself mitigated stress reactions and improved performance on the simulator. CONCLUSION: Stress reactions can be induced in a laboratory setting where simulation-based training occurs. Stressors imposed on the learner during simulation-based training may help support the acquisition of stress management skills that are necessary in the applied clinical setting. A ramped-up sequence of acquiring technical skills and clinical decision making, followed by stress management techniques, may lead to a more efficient transfer of learning from the simulated context to the clinical area.
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