Is Cybersickness Real and Do I Already Have It?

While virtual reality may be fun for some people, for others it has painful consequences. One of these consequences is virtual reality sickness, also called cybersickness, which can mimic motion sickness symptoms when in a virtual reality setting. A new study published in Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, from researchers at Konkuk University in Seoul Korea has found some new information about cybersickness, including who is most susceptible.

Background: Symptoms of Cybersickness

If you’ve ever put a virtual reality headset on and felt nauseous, you’re not alone. Cybersickness can be quite common and have uncomfortable symptoms, such as a headache, nausea, vomiting, sweating, disorientation, drowsiness, or fatigue. Cybersickness is an interesting phenomenon because your body isn’t actually moving, your mind just thinks it is. This can also happen within simulators, such as the flight simulators pilots use. Many times, feeling sick can dissuade an individual from repeating an experience. This is important for metaverse companies when developing virtual environments. As they want to gain more customers, these companies need to keep cybersickness in mind as a potential deterrent. 

The physiology of cybersickness isn’t fully understood. Some research has shown that it may have to do with the refresh rate of the projected images. If the refresh rate of the on-screen images isn’t high enough cybersickness may occur. This is because the refresh rate is slower than the brain’s processing speed, causing discord in the viewer which can lead to cybersickness. Interestingly, research suggests that individuals between 2-12 years old may be the most susceptible to cybersickness.

Analysis: Cybersickness in Player vs. Watcher

In order to better understand virtual reality sickness, a team of scientists from Konkuk University surveyed 20 men and monitored their experience by studying specific eye movements. Using a VR game called “Collecting Ring Game,” (which had already been shown to cause cybersickness), the researchers divided the participants into a playing group and a watching group. While the playing group got to experience the game, the watching group watched a recording of a game being played. Eye. movements were recorded using a special monitor with a mirror.

From their study, the researchers found that watchers experienced significantly more cybersickness than the players. This could be possibly due to players feeling more in control of the situation, or better immersed in the virtual setting. The watchers also had shorter eye movements, with longer fixation periods in one location. This could have led to more brain discord, like the refresh rate example above. The study suggested that eye movement could be a possible diagnosis for cybersickness.

Outlook: A Fight Against Cybersickness

Knowing who may be more susceptible to cybersickness can help virtual reality companies develop ways to overcome a potential detractor for customers. Some games have virtual noses displayed in the view so a player can “ground” themselves without feeling sick. This helps a player feel more immersed in the game, deterring nausea. As the metaverse becomes a more accessible technology, cybersickness may have rising implications for our health. It is important to keep the susceptible ages in mind when inviting new individuals to experience a virtual reality setting. 

Kenna Castleberry is a staff writer at the Debrief and the Science Communicator at JILA (a partnership between the University of Colorado Boulder and NIST). She focuses on deep tech, the metaverse, and quantum technology. You can find more of her work at her website: