Why Do Some People Get Nauseous Wearing Virtual Reality Headsets?

Why Do Some People Get Nauseous Wearing Virtual Reality Headsets?

Learn why virtual reality headsets cause nausea and what's being done to stop the problem. 

The tech “powers that be” proclaimed 2016 as the “year of virtual reality” and in many ways they were right. As headsets like the Oculus Rift and Samsung Gear VR hit the market, millions of people entered the world of immersive computing. But as they began to experience the amazing world of VR, reports began to surface of a new form of sickness.

Scientists have confirmed that these new headsets do in fact cause a form of motion sickness dubbed “VR sickness.” Headset makers, game programmers, and software developers have been working hard to combat it, but some people are still reporting that virtual reality is making them sick. Within the industry, insiders are worried that this could be a major obstacle to widespread adoption.

The future of the technology depends on a cure. Today, VR headsets are being used primarily for gaming and education. Some businesses like luxury real estate sales have already adopted the technology and VR may play a huge role in the future in everything from on-the-job-training to sales, product development, and healthcare.

Let's explore why some users may experience the nausea and discomfort of motion sickness when wearing a VR headset and what tech companies are doing to address the problem.

What Is Virtual Reality Sickness?

In general, motion sickness is fairly common. For example, during a flight that experiences turbulence, more than 25 percent of the passengers will exhibit symptoms of motion sickness. Many of us experience symptoms like nausea, sweating and headaches when we travel by car, train or plane. We just pop an anti-nausea pill, take some ginger or just wait it out.

There are a range of theories for why people experience motion sickness. When it comes to virtual reality, the main cause is thought to be visual mismatches and this creates symptoms that tend to be oculomotor in nature. The result can be eye strain, difficulty focusing and headaches. Of course, it's much more complicated than that, but it can be boiled down to sensory conflict. There's a lot of interesting science happening around this issue. The general consensus is that VR sickness is caused by a conflict within the vestibular system (your balance and inner ear), visual system (what you are seeing) and your kinesthetic (movement) inputs.

Sensors in the headset can accurately track movement and adjust quickly to keep the experience “real”, it can't do it as quickly as in the real world. It needs to track movement within 5 to 10 milliseconds. Any time lag beyond 10 milliseconds can cause a sensory conflict and induce sickness.

Although time lag is the most common reason people experience discomfort, VR affects users in other ways as well. Sensory conflict, for example, flying through a virtual world while seated at a gaming console, and the proximity effect of being so close to the screen are other potential causes.

Why Virtual Reality Can Trigger Sickness In Some, But Not All Users

New studies suggest that women are 4 times more likely to experience motion sickness than men. In fact, the two biggest predictors are age and gender. Women are not only more likely to experience sickness, but the symptoms tend to be more acute. No one is sure why this is the case, but scientists are exploring the hormonal cycle as a potential cause. Age is also a predicting factor with signs beginning at an early age, peaking at around 20 years old, then declining. Genetics can also play a role. And it appears that people who suffer migraines, inner ear conditions and sight problems also have a higher incidence of VR sickness.

How Companies Are Addressing the Issue of VR Sickness

All of the major developers are aware of and working on the problem of VR sickness. In order for the technology to reach its full potential, there is no other choice. Many of the issues with VR sickness can be addressed by creating less lag time within an environment. Film runs at a rate of 30 frames per second (fps). Virtual reality needs to run at least three times that speed, a minimum of 90fps in order to reduce lag times to within 10 milliseconds.

The big brands like Oculus Rift, HTC Vive and PlayStation VR all run at high frame rates which dramatically reduce lag times. While incidents of VR sickness are still being reported with these headsets, it seems to be at a reduced rate.

Many companies are looking at various solutions including creating mixed reality, which helps reduce sickness rates, but mixed reality doesn't create the immersive experience of VR. Some other areas being researched include:

• Using traditional motion sickness remedies like ginger or Dramamine

• Wearing a nerve stimulating wristband

• Expanding or reducing the field of view

• Using optical illusions to trick the brain to eliminate the need for controller movements

• Walking on a specialized treadmill when wearing the headset

The technology is still in its infancy. As it continues to evolve, the major developers will address and rectify the issues involved with VR sickness. The fact is, virtual reality is poised to change the way we view the world. As more companies and industries enter development and begin to use the technology solutions will emerge that will make mass adoption inevitable.

At Village Features we are using VR to help developers change the way they market their properties. If you'd like to learn more, give us a call. Let us show you how our proprietary virtual reality system can increase your sales, reduce your time to market and lower your costs. Without the motion sickness!