What Causes Motion Sickness or Can Mobile Devices Induce Motion Sickness?

Our Previous Understanding and What Causes Motion Sickness

what causes motion sicknessMotion sickness has been a problem for certain people probably since the invention of the wheel. Whether it’s car sickness, sea sickness or air sickness, medical professionals think that motion sickness is triggered when our inner ear senses movement that we cannot see.

The inner ear is responsible for balance; when motion is felt but not seen, our natural balance response gets out of sync, and we feel dizzy or nauseous. Only about 10 percent of people are highly susceptible to motion sickness, but as many as 40 percent may be affected at one time or another.

A New Kind of Motion Sickness

Since the 1990s, when virtual reality and 3D environments became available to consumers via video games and films, people started to report a new type of motion sickness, dubbed simulation sickness or digital motion sickness. Researchers suggest that this type of motion sickness is caused not by the inner ear sensing movement the eye doesn’t see but by the oppositethe eye sees motion, but the body does not feel it.

Dr. Thomas Stoffregen, director of the University of Minnesota’s Affordance Perception-Action Laboratory, is a research leader in the field of digital motion sickness. He has conducted several studies based on the hypothesis that this type of motion sickness is not an inner ear disturbance, but rather it’s the body trying to maintain posture that causes the nausea and dizziness. Later he made not really obvious suggestion regarding what causes motion sickness.

His most recent research, using video games on iPads, found that study participants experienced motion sickness about 30 percent of the time. The results also suggest that motion sickness occurs less often when the subject controls the game by manually moving the device versus touch play, where game control is through fingertip contact with the screen.

How Will It Affect Us?

With newer and better 3D simulations, it is estimated that up to 90 percent of the population could suffer from simulation sickness.

Now, mobile devices have been added to the list of things that may induce simulation sickness. Handheld gaming devices, tablets, Google Glass and mobile phonesApple’s new iOS 7 has been implicated for its parallax effect, with 25 percent of iDevice ownersexperiencing motion sicknesshave all been suggested to cause it. Since these devices are becoming more and more ubiquitous in our lives, it will be increasingly difficulty for people prone to motion sickness to avoid them.

Medicine has been treating motion sickness for many decades, mainly with prescription medications and desensitizing behavioral training. If Dr. Stoffregen’s hypothesis that simulation sickness is different from motion sickness, it seems unlikely that these treatments will be as useful. Couple that with the fact that it will be virtually impossible to avoid mobile devices with realistic 3D effects, and we get what some are calling the occupational disease of the 21st century.

What Can We Do?

It might become more and more difficult, but if you are afflicted with simulation sickness, you may have to:

  • Forego the pleasures of 3D gaming and films
  • Use mobile devices that don’t rely heavily on 3D effects or allow you to turn them off, which Apple has done with iOS 7
  • Wait for further research to find ways to manage symptoms. For example, Dr. Stoffregen’s work suggests that, especially for virtual reality and 3D gaming, physically controlling the device may reduce simulation sickness.

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