Motion Sickness – could Virtual Reality help?

Playing virtual reality computer games could provide the answer to combating motion sickness.

Scientists are looking at how feelings of nausea can be induced in people who are put into a virtual reality environment. By putting them back into that environment on a frequent basis the researchers are hoping to find out if they become accustomed to the conditions and overcome the symptoms of motion sickness.

The research is being carried out by scientists at Loughborough University with funding from the Swindon based Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.

It is known that motion sickness can be overcome by subjecting a person to real motion at frequent and regular intervals. “This phenomenon of the body becoming resistant to motion sickness is called habituation,” says Dr Peter Howarth, who is leading the research at the University’s Department of Human Sciences. “We have shown in earlier studies that habituation also occurs in virtual environments – if someone is repeatedly exposed to the appearance of motion they get used to it and no longer feel queasy.”

If habituation does indeed appear to be transferable in this way it could have important implications for the problem of motion sickness for travellers. “It could be that if people play these types of computer games at home and habituate to the appearance of motion they will experience less motion sickness in the real world,” says Dr Howarth. “So the playing of computer games could not only be fun but could also be beneficial in cutting down feelings of sickness whilst travelling”.

“We aim to recruit around 200 volunteers who will play a virtual racing car game, using head-mounted displays, for 20 minutes at a time” says Dr Howarth. “Throughout this period they will report on how they are feeling. From this work we will obtain information about how often someone needs to be exposed in order to become habituated.”

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