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Scientists Reveal the Connection Between Virtual Reality and Motion Sickness

Virtual reality or VR has existed in one form or another since the 1990s. However, it is only recently that the technology has evolved to a useable degree. From pain management to real estate and gaming, VR is reaching new heights with each passing day. However, even today, after hundreds of improvements to both software and hardware, one problem of VR persists – Motion sickness.

According to Thomas Stoffregen, a Kinesiologist at the University of Minnesota, commercially available VR software has a 40% to 70% chance of causing motion sickness in people after just 15 minutes of usage. Depending on the application, the rate may even be 100%.

Scientists, including Stoffregen, gathered in Los Angeles on July 28 for a conference on ‘Cybersickness’,  which is the name given to motion sickness caused by VR interaction.

Women are especially vulnerable to cybersickness

During their study, the researchers were able to learn that women are more likely to be affected by VR-causing motion sickness than their male counterparts. However, this distinction is not limited to technology only. More women experience motion sickness when compared to men in the real world as well.

Sensory conflict is the leading theory used to explain cybersickness. Scientists believe that due to the mismatch of what your body feels and what your eyes see when you are hooked into VR, the resulting disorientation causes the feelings of nausea. Other researchers feel that sickness is an evolutionary response. The human brain perceives the VR visuals as a hallucination resulting from ingesting toxins. Therefore, the natural response is to expel the contents of the stomach to expel the hallucinogenic substance.

However, both of these theories fail to explain why cybersickness affects some people and not others. How the VR headset fits on a person’s head can also play an important role in the matter. In the cases where interpupillary distance is high, users experience discomfort. The research revealed that since around 90% of women’s pupillary distance was smaller than the default setting for VR headsets. This could be a valid cause for the higher number of cybersickness cases in females. In comparison, only 5% of the men had narrow pupils that failed to match the headset’s settings.

Postural instability may be to blame

Stoffregen put forward another theory explaining the VR sickness. He claimed that some people felt a wobbliness at the start of their VR experience, similar to the rocking of a boat on the water. He says that those fluent enough to adapt to that wobbliness do not undergo motion sickness, while others who feel the discomfort go on to experience nausea.

However, the postural instability theory met with some resistance at the conference. Some scientists presented their data that failed to show any correlation between cybersickness and instability. Therefore, the debate over the exact connection between the sickness and VR still rages on.

However, there can be no debate over the fact that motion sickness is a big obstacle in the growth and evolution of virtual reality technology. It can hamper the technology’s progress if the scientific community is unable to come up with a dependable solution to the issue.

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