Psychophysiological and Performance Aspects on Motion Sickness


Joakim Dahlman


Motion sickness is not an illness, but rather a natural autonomic response to an unfamiliar or specific stimulus. The bodily responses to motion sickness are highly individual and contextually dependent, making them difficult to predict. The initial autonomic responses are similar to the ones demonstrated when under stress. When under the influence of motion sickness, motivation and ability to perform tasks or duties are limited. However, little is known about how specific cognitive functions are affected. Furthermore, standard mitigation strategies involve medications that induce fatigue or strategies that require cognitive capabilities. Both of them may result in reduced capability to perform assigned tasks or duties. Hence, there is a need for alternative mitigation strategies.

The aim of the thesis was to study psychophysiological and performance aspects on motion sickness. The long-term goal is to provide strategies for mitigation and prevention of motion sickness by identifying psychophysiological responses as predictors for both wellbeing and performance. This thesis comprises four studies, in which 91 participants were exposed to two different motion sickness stimuli, either an optokinetic drum or a motion platform. Before the tests, a method for extracting fixations from eye-tracking data was developed as a prerequisite for studying fixations as a possible mitigation strategy for reducing motion sickness. During exposure to stimuli that triggers motion sickness, performance was studied by testing short-term memory and encoding and retrieval. In the final study, the effects of an artificial sound horizon were studied with respect to its potential to subconsciously function as a mitigating source.

The results of the measurements of the psychophysiological responses were in accordance with previous research, confirming the ambiguity and high individuality of the responses as well as their contextual dependencies. To study fixations, a centroid mode algorithm proved to be the best way to generate fixations from eye-movement data. In the final study, the effects of the sound horizon were compared to the effects of a non-positioned sound. In the latter condition, both fixation time and the number of fixations increased over time, whereas none of them showed a significant time effect in the sound horizon condition. The fixation time slope was significantly larger in the non-positioned sound condition compared to the sound horizon condition. Number of fixations, heart rate, and skin conductance correlated positively with subjective statements that referred to motion sickness. Among participants that were susceptible to motion sickness symptoms, short-term memory performance was negatively affected. However, no effects of motion sickness on encoding and retrieval were found, regardless of susceptibility.

Future studies should continue focusing on autonomic responses and psychological issues of motion sickness. Factors such as motivation, expectancies, and previous experiences play a major and yet relatively unknown role within the motion sickness phenomena.