Motion sickness doesn’t have to spoil your travelling – brain training might help

  • 'Brain training' may be a great solution for motion sickness, according to a new study
  • A team had participants partake in various tests to measure their symptoms
  • They hope the results will help to manage the condition in the future

Motion sickness, an illness caused by the disturbance of one's sense of balance, can leave you feeling nauseous and dizzy, and may even cause headaches and vomiting.

According to the US National Library of Medicine, about one in three people is considered highly susceptible to the condition. It is known to commonly occur during car travel, at sea, and when using virtual reality headsets.

Coping strategies vary and include medications, looking out of the window and avoiding looking down to read when in a moving vehicle.

Now, a new study has found that visuospatial exercises can train the brain to reduce motion sickness by up to 58%. The study was done by researchers at WMG, University of Warwick in the UK, and was published in the journal Applied Ergonomics

Motion sickness and the future of self-driving vehicles

According to the study authors, motion sickness is expected to be a significant factor in autonomous (self-driving) cars based on potential vehicle designs and people’s desire to engage in non-driving related tasks, such as reading or watching films. The Guardian notes that these cars could be allowed on UK motorways as early as next year.

For this reason, the researchers felt there is a need to work on ways to reduce motion sickness now more than ever. 

A news release by the university mentions that, according to Morgan Stanley, reducing motion sickness, allowing people to work and read in self-driving cars could boost productivity by as much as $508 billion per year.

Two-part study showed positive results

As part of their two-part study, the research team had participants either doing a driving simulator trial in the WMG 3xD simulator, or on an on-road trial where they were driven around as passengers. This essentially imitated being in an autonomous vehicle.

Some of the ways they measured the severity of symptoms included a "fast motion sickness scale" to capture "real-time" symptoms.

After their first run, participants completed several pen-and-paper visuospatial training tasks for 15 minutes per day for two weeks.

Some of the tasks included exercises such as looking at a pattern of boxes and having to identify which image out of three is the original; paper folding tasks; and understanding spatial patterns.

When this training period was completed, participants partook in another motion sickness assessment.

The results from that assessment indicated that their motion sickness was reduced by 51% in the driving simulator, and by 58% in the on-road trial.

Results a 'massive step forward'

“Being able to reduce an individual’s personal susceptibility to motion-sickness using simple ‘brain training style’ tasks training is a massive step-forward in the development of future transport systems, including autonomous vehicles,” commented lead author, Dr Joseph Smyth, from WMG, University of Warwick, adding:

"Human-factors research is all about how we can design products and services that are pleasurable. Motion sickness has, for a long time, been a significant limitation to many people’s transport options and this research has shown a new method for how we can address this."

Smyth also said that he hopes the training can be optimised into shorter, but highly impactful methods to be used in the future.

“Imagine if, when someone is waiting for a test-drive in a new autonomous vehicle, they could sit in the showroom and do some ‘brain training puzzles’ on a tablet before going out in the car, thereby reducing their risk of sickness,” he said.

According to Smyth, there is potential for this method to also be used in other domains, such as sea-sickness for navy staff or cruise ship passengers. 

READ | Nausea and vomiting

READ | How to avoid getting sick on your next flight

READ | Your overseas medicines kit

Image: Getty/sorbetto

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For 14 free days, you can have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today. Thereafter you will be billed R75 per month. You can cancel anytime and if you cancel within 14 days you won't be billed. 
Subscribe to News24
Voting Booth
Gauteng DA leader Solly Msimanga says the party's voters want it to explore conditional coalition talks with the ANC. 
Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
It's a step in the right direction. An ANC-DA coalition would be the most stable option for SA
33% - 2776 votes
The DA should focus on working with all opposition parties, including the EFF, to unseat the ANC
15% - 1240 votes
The DA should rather remain in opposition than form a coalition with the ANC or the EFF
52% - 4397 votes
Rand - Dollar
Rand - Pound
Rand - Euro
Rand - Aus dollar
Rand - Yen
Brent Crude
Top 40
All Share
Resource 10
Industrial 25
Financial 15
All JSE data delayed by at least 15 minutes Iress logo
Editorial feedback and complaints

Contact the public editor with feedback for our journalists, complaints, queries or suggestions about articles on News24.