If you’ve ever felt lightheaded or nauseous while scrolling online, you may have had an episode of cybersickness. Cybersickness is a condition that describes the feelings of nausea, headaches and dizziness that one feels when engaging with screens for long periods of time. It goes beyond eye strain and fatigue to include other symptoms as well. The most common are headaches, eye strain, nausea and drowsiness, symptoms similar to those of motion sickness.
Eugene Nalivaiko, a professor of neurology at the University of Newcastle in Australia, has studied both general motion sickness and cybersickness extensively and says that there is clinically no difference between the two. However while motion sickness arises out of the body moving while the brain thinks it’s stationary, the opposite occurs with cybersickness. “Say you’re scrolling on a screen for a long period of time and it’s filling up your visual field – that can give your body the sense that it’s moving,” explains Matthew Crowson, a neurotologist at Massachusetts Eye and Ear. “However, your body knows that you’re not moving. It’s that conflict of signals that drives the symptoms of cybersickness.”
This condition has mostly been studied in the context of VR. In 2016, 25 to 60% of VR users were likely to experience cybersickness. At the beginning of the decade, researchers began to use the word ‘cybersickness’ to describe the motion sickness virtual reality users experienced while playing games. Previously thought to be a result of exposure to immersive environments such as VR and AR, it’s now accepted it can also be caused by a screen with moving images, a session of fast paced scrolling or attending a virtual meeting in which someone else is controlling the screen. Symptoms can be experienced through everyday devices such as computers, phones and TVs.
Angelica Jasper, a researcher in human computer interaction specialising in cybersickness, says, “While cybersickness symptoms may initially appear benign, they can have enduring effects lasting up to 24 hours after device use. This may not seem like a big deal at first. But these lingering symptoms could affect your ability to function in ways that could prove dangerous.”
Our bodies were not designed to exist in virtual spaces. Experts suggest that taking frequent breaks from screens will give your body information about its position in space, which will reduce sensory conflict. Our lives are becoming, for the most part, unavoidably screen-centric and cybersickness seems to be on the rise. We may not be able to give up screens entirely but we can take steps to keep cybersickness at bay. As businesses, it’s worth considering how to mitigate the loss of productivity that arises for employees as a result of cybersickness.
By Faeeza Khan
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