Smartphones and Tablets can make you feel ill

Despite just about everyone in the world owning either an iPhone or an Android smartphone, there has been very little written about a phenomenon known as cybersickness.

According to experts studying the problem as much as 80% of digital device users suffer from a feeling of dizziness and nausea brought on by the use of smartphones and tablets.

If you have scrolled rapidly on your phone or tablet or watching the latest action-packed blockbuster, you could start to feel a little woozy or the start of a dull headache coming on.

Experts claim that watching fast-moving visual content affects us all differently and ranges from a mild feeling of unpleasantness to full-blown sea sickness, a condition people would pay anything to avoid.

“It’s a fundamental problem that’s kind of been swept under the carpet in the tech industry,” said Cyriel Diels, a cognitive psychologist and human factors researcher at the University of Coventry in England.

Digital motion sickness is the term medical professionals use to call this feeling of unpleasantness, a virtually induced form of motion sickness brought on by mismatched sensory signals being sent to the brain.

Massachusetts Eye and Ear Balance and Vestibular Centre Director Dr Steven Rauch, a 30 year veteran of diagnosing and the management of hearing and balance disorders say’s:

“Your sense of balance is different than other senses in that it has lots of inputs when those inputs don’t agree, that’s when you feel dizziness and nausea.”

Traditionally motion sickness i.e. car or sea sickness occurs when your brain senses movements in your muscles and inner ear, yet your eyes cannot collaborate that movement to the brain. One of the reasons people suffering sea sickness are told to go up on deck and stare at the horizon is so that the eyes can now recognise movement and send that information to the brain effectively getting all your senses back in sync.

However, when looking at the phenomenon of digital motion sickness, the roles are reversed. You see all the twists and turns while watching a video of a car chase, yet your body and inner ear feel none of the movement that your eyes are experiencing. The result though produces the same queasy effect, just the other way around.

Even though you may not suffer from car or sea sickness, it does not mean that you will not be affected by fast moving digital images. The way the images and the conformity of how the digital content is presented could in fact cause you to feel unwell.

Surprisingly, studies show that woman are more prone to digital image sickness than men, but not surprising is the fact that migraine sufferers or people who have been the subject of a concussion are more prone to develop cybersickness. Scientists also theorise that people with “A-Type personalities and those that strive for perfection may also be more prone to cybersickness as their sensory inputs are acuter.

While this may come as news to most of us, it has been well-documented in the military with pilots suffering bouts of cybersickness brought on by the use of 3D imagery that is now used to fly today’s modern aircraft.

One of the next big steps in digital technology is, of course, the availability of virtual reality headsets leading Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg to purchase the market leading company Oculus Virtual Reality for $2 billion. Meanwhile, executives in charge of the Oculus Rift headset project say their biggest hurdle has been trying to overcome motion sickness in users.

Apple had to add extra accessibility settings to its mobile operating system to allow users to tone down the visual stimuli. And executives at Oculus V.R., makers of the much-anticipated virtual reality headset Oculus Rift (the company was purchased by Facebook last year for $2 billion), have said digital motion sickness is one of their biggest hurdles.

The big worry at the moment is that someone playing a virtual reality game for several hours gets behind the wheel of an automobile and that they have balance, vision and delay impairments similar to that of a drunken person.

The military already realises the impact virtual reality simulators have on its pilot’s grounding then for 12 hours following a simulator training session.

Studies are of course on-going, but for now, at least it would appear that limiting your time playing games or fast scrolling on your smartphone or tablet is the most sensible option.


Photos courtesy of Intel Deutschland and Rafael Drelich Valentim


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