This is why you get sick in virtual reality and others don't

This is why you get sick in virtual reality and others don't

Researchers reveal why your body may or may not react to virtual reality with motion sickness. Spoiler: Your experience with VR isn't the deciding factor.

It's a common thread in the recent history of virtual reality: motion sickness. It can cause headaches, nausea, or stomachaches. Now researchers want to find out why some people get sick in VR and others don't. Especially interesting: People's experience with VR games should not influence their susceptibility to motion sickness.

VR affects subjective visual verticality

When people's spatial orientation is disturbed, they can no longer correctly locate their own body position in their environment. The result can be dizziness, nausea, imbalance, or disorientation.

One way to diagnose patients with vertigo is to measure the visual vertical. Ophthalmologists use this to determine the individual's perception of vertical lines. If the perception differs from reality, dizziness may occur.

A study from the University of Waterloo in Canada uses this method to show how people's subjective visual vertical changes after an intense VR game, and how this affects the perception of motion sickness.

Your body's ability to adapt is key

During the study, the researchers collected data from a total of 31 participants. They had to play a very intense and a less intense VR game. Perception of vertical lines was assessed before and after the game.

Participants were asked to judge whether a line in their field of view rotated clockwise or counterclockwise from vertical while lying on their side. The results indicated that the perception of the subjective visual vertical shifted significantly after the VR game.


Participants with the least change in their subjective visual vertical reported feeling more nauseous – especially during the more intense VR game. Thus, the faster and more one's perception of the visual vertical adjusts, the less motion sickness is experienced.

VR experience does not play a role in motion sickness

No gender differences were found. VR experience did not play a role either, according to the researchers. Instead, they said, the sensory reorientation of the body was the critical factor that determined susceptibility to motion sickness.

“Our findings suggest that the severity of a person’s cybersickness is affected by how our senses adjust to the conflict between reality and virtual reality,” said Professor Michael Barnett-Cowan.

With this knowledge, Barnett-Cowan says, VR developers could create more comfortable and enjoyable virtual environments for game players. Virtual reality experiences could be designed to consider individual differences in sensory processing among gamers.

Sources: Study