New research links iPads to motion sickness

StoffregenT_2013Have you ever felt sick or queasy after using a mobile device for an extended period of time? New research from the University of Minnesota, published in the journal Experimental Brain Research, helps explain why that might be.

In the study, participants played video games on iPads—under controlled, experimental conditions— and experienced motion sickness almost a third of the time. The risk of motion sickness, however, was found to be greatly influenced by how the device was being used.

Half of the participants played the game in “tilt control” mode, controlling the game by manually moving the device. Those participants rarely became sick. The other half that played in “touch” mode, using fingertip contact on the screen exclusively, were nearly five times as likely to get motion sickness.

“This result is remarkable,” said lead researcher Thomas Stoffregen, director of the U of M Affordance Perception-Action Laboratory in the School of Kinesiology. “Given the number of mobile devices out there, our findings suggest the potential for a serious problem. However, the research also has some practical tips for how people can minimize the risk of motion sickness.”

The study follows up on previous research by Stoffregen and the lab that explored the long-held belief that the driver of a car is less likely to get motion sickness than the passenger.

“The previous studies pushed us to ask: ‘What is it about control that matters in motion sickness?’” said Stoffregen. “The iPad and its controller options offered a convenient way to begin to answer that question.”

In the new study, 36 undergraduate research participants (average age 21) played the popular game Modern Combat 3: Fallen Nation, moving an avatar on screen for up to 40 minutes in a controlled lab environment. Overall, 31 percent of participants reported feeling sick after playing, regardless of how they controlled the iPad. Only 11 percent of the half that moved the device with their hands got sick, while 50 percent of the half that used touch control, with the iPad motionless on a stand, got sick.

“In 2011, we used Xbox and virtual driving games to study the age-old finding that the driver is less likely to get car sick than the passenger,” said Stoffregen. “In 2012, we studied motion sickness in walking, using Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, with some people ‘driving’ the avatar and others watching a recording of the avatar. Turns out, like in our new study, the difference in getting sick or not is about being in control of your locomotion.”

Stoffregen believes his research has broader implications for motion sickness studies and for brain research. “We have had lots of anecdotal reports that mobile devices can induce motion sickness, but ours is the first study in which these anecdotes have been put to the test under controlled experimental conditions,” he said.

The new study’s findings are published in the article “Motion Control, Motion Sickness, and the Postural Dynamics of Mobile Devices,” in Experimental Brain Research, written by Stoffregen and by Yi-Chou Chen and Frank Kosluscher, kinesiology graduate students.

This research was covered extensively in the media: