(Motion) Sick Ride, Dude


Bonjour tout le monde! (Hello everyone!) I am writing this blog post on the train to Amsterdam. I absolutely love how easy it is to travel throughout Europe. There are so many cities in other parts of France and different countries that are just a short train ride away. For the most part, it is also pretty affordable! So far I have been to Brussels, south France, and now I am heading to Amsterdam.

A view from the train on the way to Amsterdam

Hi again everyone. Now I am writing from Amsterdam. I started to write on the train as you see above, but got motion sick within the first few minutes. So, I stopped and this is my second attempt at writing (not on public transportation). I attribute the very quick on-set of motion sickness to looking out the window at the beautiful scenery, while still trying to type on my computer. In hindsight, that was probably not a great idea. Although it gave me an idea of what to write about for this post! As much as I love the ability to travel by train, I have noticed that I have to be really careful to avoid motion sickness.

Buildings on a canal in Amsterdam

Motion sickness includes symptoms such as dizziness, nausea, tiredness, sweating and headaches (“Motion Sickness”, 2014) But what is the cause of motion sickness? There is a region thought to be connected to motion sickness called the vestibular system (Oman, 1990). The vestibular system is found within your inner ear, and is involved in unconscious perception of head motion. It also is important for orienting yourself in space and navigating your environment (Angelaki and Cullen, 2008).

The Vestibular System within the ear, it is located right above the structures involved in hearing.

The dominating theory for the cause of motion sickness, sensory conflict theory, states that information from the vestibular system and information from our eyes conflict with each other (Warwick-Evans et al., 1998). For example, on the train my vestibular system assumed I was not moving because I was sitting still, but my eyes saw that the landscape was moving. Warick-Evans and colleagues tested this theory by using two levels of conflicting information and then measuring the level of motion sickness. They found that when there is more conflict between the apparent motion of our head and the apparent motion our eyes are seeing, then there is a greater degree of motion sickness (Warwick-Evans et al., 1998). So, when my vestibular sense tells me I am still, but my vision says I am moving, my brain can’t reconcile the information.

Your eye and vestibular system give conflicting information to your brain, leading to motion sickness.

More recent studies have expanded on sensory conflict theory, adding to our understanding of how motion sickness is caused. One study by Tal and colleagues (2014) tested whether motion sickness could be due to the unfamiliar patterns of motion we are experiencing. In other words, our brain knows which visual information for motion matches with vestibular information from past experiences. The brain then compares new motion experiences to that information. If the new information doesn’t match the old experience, it leads to motion sickness (Tal et al., 2014). This supports sensory conflict, since our brain understands that the visual and vestibular information do not match. But it also adds an extra component: our previous experiences allows us to recognize the conflict. This is supported by the fact that the hippocampus, a region in the brain important for memory (including spatial memory), was found to be important in processing sensory conflict information. (Zhang et al., 2016). This supports that our memory of different spatial orientations or visual information impacts the response to sensory conflict, leading to motion sickness.

One issue with these studies is that motion sickness is currently only measured by a questionnaire. People are giving subjective responses on how bad their motion sickness is. With subjective responses, it is difficult to guarantee that people will consistently respond on the same scale as each other. One person may rank their motion sickness as much worse than another, even though they are having very similar symptoms. Something that could be done in future research could be physiological tests (possibly looking at balance and sweat levels) to see if the body is actually responding with symptoms of motion sickness.

The Motion Sickness Susceptibility Questionnaire, used in both Tal et Al. and Warnick-Evans et. Al studies.

Unfortunately, my motion sickness happens on the train, the metro and even sometimes in the car. Although, I don’t seem to notice it as much when I am in a plane or on a spinning ride in a park. There is a lot more I would be interested in knowing about motion sickness. Are some modes of transportation or movement more likely to induce motion sickness? Why do I get more sick when I am directly in the sun and not so much when there is sufficient AC? Also, there is little research on why some people are more susceptible to motion sickness than others.

I would love to see more research done on all of these topics. But for now, I will work on not overloading my senses in order to avoid feeling sick. But you can bet I will keep traveling either way. Motion sickness can’t stop me!






Angelaki, D. E., & Cullen, K. E. (2008). Vestibular System: The Many Facets of a Multimodal Sense. Annual Review of Neuroscience,31(1), 125-150.

Motion sickness. (2014, November 30). Retrieved from https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/motion-sickness

Oman, C. M. (1990). Motion sickness: A synthesis and evaluation of the sensory conflict theory. Canadian Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology,68(2), 294-303.

Tal, D., Wiener, G., & Shupak, A. (2014). Mal de debarquement, motion sickness and the effect of an artificial horizon. Journal of Vestibular Research,23, 17-23.

Warwick-Evans, L., Symons, N., Fitch, T., & Burrows, L. (1998). Evaluating sensory conflict and postural instability. theories of motion sickness. Brain Research Bulletin,47(5), 465-469.

Zhang, L., Wang, J., Qi, R., Pan, L., Li, M., & Cai, Y. (2016). Motion Sickness: Current Knowledge and Recent Advance. CNS Neuroscience & Therapeutics,22(1), 15-24.

Image 1 and 2: My own images

Image 3:

How our Vestibular System works and why this is important for learning. (2019, April 04). Retrieved from https://www.griffinot.com/vestibular-system/

Image 4:

Horsky, J. (2017, December 14). Understanding VR sickness. Retrieved from https://blog.infinite.cz/understanding-vr-sickness-2404e3aae6ee

Image 5:

Golding, J., Gresty, M., & Bronstein, A. (2013). Vertigo and Dizziness from Environmental Motion: Visual Vertigo, Motion Sickness, and Drivers Disorientation. Seminars in Neurology,33(03), 219-230.

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