The sickening truth about virtual reality

Wednesday, 24 October 2018

A new study has proven that cybersickness, which is caused by exposure to virtual reality (VR), may be the same clinical condition as ‘classic’ motion sickness caused by travelling.

Virtual reality headset

Up until now, motion sickness and cybersickness have been considered different problems, however, research from University of Newcastle has revealed the two conditions share many of the same symptoms, including nausea, sweating, dizziness and fatigue.

Associate Professor Eugene Nalivaiko* said motion sickness was a common consequence of sensory mismatch that occurs when what a person sees, feels and senses doesn’t match up.

“The disconnect occurs between the eyes and the vestibular system, which controls the workings of the inner ear, overall balance and orientation of a person in a physical space,” Associate Professor Nalivaiko said.

“Until now, cybersickness has been thought to be a sub-type of motion sickness because it does not involve the vestibular system and is triggered only by visual stimuli, but our conclusion contradicts these previously published results.”

Thirty young adults participated in two different trials spanning a maximum of 15 minutes to test their physiological responses to virtual reality and motion stimuli.

Participants were exposed to a vestibular stimulus by being blindfolded in a rotating chair and tilting their heads at regular intervals, while the visual stimulus involved ‘riding’ a virtual reality rollercoaster.

“Out of the 30 young adult volunteers involved in the study, only one of the participants was able to complete the full 15 minutes of either trial, indicating that the majority of the group experienced advanced or severe motion sickness and cybersickness,” Associate Professor Nalivaiko said.

“The clinical picture of both disorders is identical, and sensitivity to one condition predicts sensitivity to another.”

Associate Professor Nalivaiko said due to an explosion of VR technology, cybersickness had suddenly become a significant obstacle for a majority of its users and the results could have practical implications for public safety.

“Simple and inexpensive virtual reality technology could be used for pre-selection tests in professions where motion sickness may pose an occupational hazard, such as pilots, drivers or crane operators,” Associate Professor Nalivaiko said.

“Now that we can measure the severity of cybersickness, it has opened up the possibility of finding and eradicating the underlying causes.”

The article was written in conjunction with Associate Professor Rohan Walker from the University’s Centre for Biometrics and was published in the Journal of Applied Physiology earlier this month.

*Associate Professor Nalivaiko and Associate Professor Walker research in conjunction with HMRI. HMRI is a partnership between the University of Newcastle, Hunter New England Health and the community.

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