The uptake of virtual simulation technologies in both military and civilian surgical contexts has been both slow and patchy. The failure of the virtual reality community in the 1990s and early 2000s to deliver affordable and accessible training systems stems not only from an obsessive quest to develop the 'ultimate' in so-called 'immersive' hardware solutions, from head-mounted displays to large-scale projection theatres, but also from a comprehensive lack of attention to the needs of the end users. While many still perceive the science of simulation to be defined by technological advances, such as computing power, specialized graphics hardware, advanced interactive controllers, displays and so on, the true science underpinning simulation-the science that helps to guarantee the transfer of skills from the simulated to the real-is that of human factors, a well-established discipline that focuses on the abilities and limitations of the end user when designing interactive systems, as opposed to the more commercially explicit components of technology. Based on three surgical simulation case studies, the importance of a human factors approach to the design of appropriate simulation content and interactive hardware for medical simulation is illustrated. The studies demonstrate that it is unnecessary to pursue real-world fidelity in all instances in order to achieve psychological fidelity- the degree to which the simulated tasks reproduce and foster knowledge, skills and behaviours that can be reliably transferred to real-world training applications. © 2011 The Royal Society.
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