One of the most common complaints about virtual reality headsets is the motion sickness and queasiness they can cause in users. Ironically, those best suited to use virtual reality end up being the victims more than anyone else, falling prey to these uncomfortable side effects. Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison conducted a study on the effects of VR by playing motion-heavy videos for subjects wearing the Oculus Rift headset. Two-thirds of the subjects had to remove the headsets before the videos finished playing due to nausea that set in from motion sickness.
Motion sickness results when sensory information gets mismatched. While those with good 3D vision can experience the images of virtual reality better than most, they are more susceptible to this sensory mismatching and overload, leading to debilitating queasiness. Though subjects remained completely still while watching the videos, the moving images they were immersed in via the Oculus headset led their brains to believe they were moving – this mismatch leads to motion sickness.
Because wearers of virtual reality headsets have no control over the images, they can’t rectify this mismatched sensory information. This hits users who are the best at judging the direction of objects and images moving towards or away from them the most. Because these subjects are more in-tune and sensitive to 3D motion, they are more aware of the disparity between the signals being transmitted to them visually versus motion and balance signals. This perception of moving objects while the subject was actually still led to increased discomfort levels while wearing the headset.
Researchers note that users who are more prone to motion sickness using VR tech might benefit from break-in periods that reintroduce them to the mismatched sensory cues that cause their sickness, like a person on a boat focusing on the horizon to overcome sea sickness. VR manufacturers like Oculus are aware of this and are actively working to decrease the difference between their virtual realities and reality itself to bypass the potential for motion sickness. Still, it might be best to have a bucket close by just in case.