A comparative study of cybersickness during exposure to virtual reality and "classic" motion sickness: are they different?

J Appl Physiol (1985). 2018 Oct 4. doi: 10.1152/japplphysiol.00338.2018. Online ahead of print.


Existing evidence suggest that cybersickness may be clinically different from "classic", motion-induced motion sickness; this evidence was however obtained in separate studies that focussed on just one of the two conditions. Our aim was to bring clarity to this issue, by directly comparing subjective symptoms and physiological effects of motion sickness induced by physical motion (Coriolis cross-coupling) and by immersion in virtual reality (ride on a roller coaster) in the same subjects. A cohort of 30 young healthy volunteers was exposed to both stimulations in a counter-balance order on two separate days at least one week apart. Nausea scores were recorded during the exposure, and Motion Sickness Assessment Questionnaire (MSAQ) was used to profile subjective symptoms post-experiment. Tonic and phasic forehead skin conductance level (SCL) was measured before and during exposure in both stimulation methods. We found that nausea onset times and maximum nausea ratings were significantly correlated during both provocations (r=0.40, p=0.03 and r=0.56, p=0.0012, respectively). Symptom profiling with the MSAQ revealed substantial and significant correlations between total symptom scores (r=0.69, p<0.0001), between each of four symptom clusters and between 15/18 individual symptoms assessed in both conditions. Both provocations caused increase in tonic SCL associated with nausea, with a close correlation between the conditions (r=0.48, p=0.04). This was accompanied by a significant increase in the amplitude of phasic skin conductance transients in both experiments. We conclude that symptoms and physiological changes occurring during cybersickness and "classical" motion sickness are quite similar, at least during advanced stages of these malaises.

Keywords: cybersickness; motion sickness; nausea; skin conductance; virtual reality.