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Minimally invasive surgery uses optical cameras and special surgical tools in order to operate from an environment one step removed from the body cavity of interest to the surgeon. It has been suggested that constraints posed by this arrangement, in particular the lack of direct haptic feedback to the surgeon, may affect the surgeon's ability to identify tissues and accurately maneuver inside the body cavity. In the present study, the ability of laypeople to detect artificial tumors of various hardness values embedded in silicone gels was assessed in a simulated MIS environment. Participants explored the gels under three conditions all with remote viewing; using the unrestricted bare finger, using a stick-like surgical tool also unrestricted, and using the surgical tool restricted by its insertion through an operating port as in MIS. Participants were significantly more accurate and more efficient at tumor detection with the finger as compared to the other methods of exploration, and they were also better at detecting harder tumors as compared to softer ones. The potential implications of these results for the role of haptic perception in minimally invasive surgery are discussed.