We are finally solving the mystery of why motion can make us queasy – just in time to help us deal with nausea-inducing VR headsets, driverless cars and space tourism
19 August 2020
Somsak Bumroongwong/Eyeem/Getty Images; Neyro2008/Getty Images
IT STARTS behind your eyes, a niggling ache that heads down towards your stomach where it tumbles and turns before building towards a climax of vomit. Bleurgh! Motion sickness.
This has been a human affliction pretty much since we began travelling on anything but two legs. Most of us have experienced it, and it is likely to become even more prevalent when we all become passengers as driverless cars roll out, space tourism takes off and virtual reality headsets take over, both in the gaming industry and, increasingly, for virtual meetings. Even before covid-19, environmentally conscious businesses had started adopting VR technology to bring international clients together.
Motion sickness is clearly related to the movement of our body and head, but why this results in nausea has been a long-standing mystery. Now, however, evidence from brain imaging and genetics is helping scientists get to the bottom of it – as well as suggesting new ways to solve the problem. It turns out that there is far more to motion sickness than you might think. Your genes, gender and diet all have an influence. It might even come down to your foot size.
The word nausea derives from the Greek for “ship”. But motion sickness goes way beyond the odd queasy sailor. Seasickness has had a big impact on history, influencing the outcome of several military conflicts, from the battle of the Red Cliffs, which marked the end of the Han dynasty in ancient China to the defeat of the Spanish Armada by the English in 1588. And, of course, motion sickness isn’t confined to the …