24 March 2021
Tackling motion sickness in virtual reality
Published online 17 March 2021
Taking into account an individual’s sensitivity to visual cues could personalize virtual reality and prevent motion sickness in users.
While using virtual reality (VR) devices can be thrilling for many people, others struggle with motion sickness and disorientation. Now, Bas Rokers at New York University Abu Dhabi, UAE, and co-workers have demonstrated that an individual’s level of sensitivity to visual cues – particularly ‘motion parallax’ cues – can predict whether they will suffer from motion sickness when using VR.
Imagine looking out of a train window; objects nearby appear to flash past, while more distant objects move more slowly. This is called motion parallax, and it occurs because objects viewed at different distances move across the retina at different speeds.
“Our brains rely on motion parallax cues as well as cues from the inner ear to estimate movement through the environment,” says Rokers. “However, when using VR, these cues can provide conflicting estimates of self-motion, triggering motion sickness.”
The researchers asked male and female participants to watch VR content and complete motion sickness questionnaires afterward. The team manipulated the VR imagery: some videos included only monocular or binocular information, while others were full VR where participants’ head movements were taken into account.
While some participants reported no sickness, others were highly sensitive, particularly when motion parallax cues were included in full VR. No difference was found between the sexes.
“Ironically, someone who has a heightened awareness of detailed visual cues – the person who might enjoy VR the most – is more likely to suffer sickness,” says Rokers. “Personalising VR visuals by blurring out elements, for instance, could counteract this phenomenon and make VR more accessible.”
Fulvio, J.M. et al. Variations in visual sensitivity predict motion sickness in virtual reality. Entertain. Comput. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.entcom.2021.100423 (2021).