Cybersickness: When Technology Overwhelms You
Have you ever felt a headache or eyestrain after spending a lot of time in front of a screen? If it happens to you frequently, it’s likely that you’re suffering from cybersickness. You may not have heard this word before, but it’s an increasingly common condition in society today. For that reason, it’s important to know how to recognize the symptoms.
Although it may seem like a mild problem there’s a high probability that it could become chronic. In this way, it ends up affecting your ability to function normally and can even cause accidents. For this reason, it’s a condition that shouldn’t be ignored.
Dizziness makes you lose your balance and orientation. Other relatively common symptoms are nausea and a spinning sensation. Furthermore, there are different types of dizziness. In this case, we’re going to focus on motion sickness.
Motion sickness occurs when there’s a mismatch between your sensory information. For example, when you’re on a boat, your inner ear is able to feel the movement of waves. However, your eyes don’t detect any movement. It’s that incoherence that causes dizziness.
Cybersickness is a disorder associated with the use of technologies such as smartphones, computers, etc. The symptoms it generates are similar to those of common motion sickness. These include:
- Visual fatigue
- Blurry vision.
- Difficulty in focusing.
Anyone exposed to screens can experience these symptoms. However, in what way does technology make you dizzy?
When you’re using a device, you’re exposed to a large amount of visual information that’s constantly moving. For example, when you’re looking at a gallery of images you’re scrolling through. In fact, your eyes perceive movement, but you’re not moving. Therefore, your ear and your other senses send the signal to your brain that you’re still. Because of this inconsistency, cybersickness is generated.
Cybersickness and simulator sickness are generally assumed to be the same. However, a study in which eight experiments were conducted with different virtual systems indicated that the clinical profiles are different. It concluded that in cybersickness, disorientation predominates as a symptom, while with simulator sickness it’s oculomotor conditions (Stanney, Kennedy & Drexler, 1997).
Factors contributing to cybersickness
We don’t yet know for sure the factors that cause a person to suffer from cybersickness. In this respect, Weech, Varghese, and Barnett-Cowan (2018) published a study on the sensorimotor components involved in cybersickness. They concluded that certain variables, such as susceptibility to motion sickness, predict the risk of cybersickness.
However, there are other measures that need to be considered where there would be large individual differences. For this reason, the authors claim that it would be necessary to develop methods to evaluate individual variables. Thus, electronic and virtual reality devices should be adjusted to the needs of each user to prevent cybersickness.
As a matter of fact, VR headsets like the Oculus Rift include adjustments that can be calibrated as needed. Indeed, it’s important for technology companies to develop methods to alleviate cybersickness so that they can sell their products. However, more specific tools will be needed to improve the experience.
It’s common for people to tend to underestimate the dangers associated with the symptoms of cybersickness. This could be because, as a rule, symptoms only last a few minutes or hours. Nevertheless, there are serious cases where cybersickness persists for up to 24 hours. Consequently, it poses a health risk, as it impairs normal function.
For example, someone experiencing cybersickness could try to drive a vehicle and be involved in an accident. Also, handling dangerous utensils such as knives or other tools could lead to injury. Vertigo could also cause dangerous falls and bumps.
If you have any of the symptoms of cybersickness, it’s best to avoid any risky activity and seek help.
What can be done?
The best strategy for dealing with virtual motion sickness is to use technology in a healthier way. For example, if you work from home, it’s important to take regular breaks so your eyes can relax. It’s not a good idea to wait until you feel bad to do this.
Finally, remember that remote work means many people now spend many more hours in front of a screen. Hence, cybersickness is becoming increasingly common.
Furthermore, virtual reality – and the technology that enables it – has made great strides in recent years. It means you can physically be in one place and mentally in another. This is a situation that’s conducive to inconsistencies in the information you receive from your senses.
All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.
- Stanney, K. M., Kennedy, R. S., & Drexler, J. M. (1997, October). Cybersickness is not simulator sickness. In Proceedings of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society annual meeting (Vol. 41, No. 2, pp. 1138-1142). Sage CA: Los Angeles, CA: SAGE Publications.
- Weech, S., Varghese, J. P., & Barnett-Cowan, M. (2018). Estimating the sensorimotor components of cybersickness. Journal of neurophysiology, 120(5), 2201-2217.