With so much of our time spent on screens, getting motion sickness from scrolling (called “cybersickness”) occurs frequently. It was once thought of as a type of motion sickness that only gamers got, especially from virtual reality devices, but it’s become more widespread. The effects of taxing the visual system with scrolling and looking at small screens that flicker seems subtle, but it can add up to uncomfortable feelings of eye strain, headaches, and can trigger actual motion sickness.
A new study has found that you may be able to relieve symptoms of cybersickness, whether caused by gaming or just from unintentional exposure due to your phone, by listening to music. This was simulated in a study of young adults aged 22-36 years old from the University of Edinburgh which asked participants to engage in virtual reality environments with rollercoasters which was designed to make them feel sick.
Researchers played music while they were in the VR environment and then assigned tests which measured their reaction times, cognitive tests for memory, and tracked changes in their reading accuracy and speed. Of the three rides they were exposed to virtually, two rides had instrumental music playing which was described as calming or happy, and the other ride was done in silence. The sequence of the rides and music was randomized to give the most accurate results.
The participants who felt the most symptoms of cybersickness, which included nausea, found relief when the joyful music was playing. The cybersickness temporarily reduced verbal memory scores and decreased pupil size. Participants who were cybersick also had delays in their reading times and worse reaction times on the tests afterwards.
The changes experienced by those who were cybersick were lessened in those people who had significant gaming experience, but the physical changes that cybersickness caused are a good reminder for those of us who aren’t quite sure why we may feel altered after using technology. Some sensitive people may feel this way after using a smartphone for a short while. The researchers are hoping that this can be applied to game design which may include more optimistic music to relieve the possibility of cybersickness to make games more appealable to those who are sensitive. Outside of video games, playing peaceful or happy music while doing long bouts of screen time involving lots of motion may help reduce symptoms for others.
Panagiotis Kourtesis, Rayaan Amir, Josie Linnell, Ferran Argelaguet, Sarah E. MacPherson. Cybersickness, Cognition, & Motor Skills: The Effects of Music, Gender, and Gaming Experience. IEEE Transactions on Visualization and Computer Graphics, 2023; 29 (5): 2326 DOI: 10.1109/TVCG.2023.3247062