Posture could explain why women get more VR sickness than men | New Scientist
Is virtual reality sexist? Women experience more motion sickness than men while using VR, and researchers have suggested a novel theory for the discrepancy: differences in posture. But not everyone agrees.
“Women are more susceptible than men to motion sickness in general,” says Thomas Stoffregen at the University of Minnesota. “We wanted to know whether that was also the case with VR headsets.”
Stoffregen and his team ran experiments in which 36 people – half of them men, half of them women – played two VR games using the Facebook-owned Oculus Rift headset.
A game in which players had to push a marble around a maze only made a few people feel nauseous. But a game that involved taking a virtual stroll around a haunted house triggered feelings of sickness in 14 out of 18 women and only six out of 18 men.
Why were women more susceptible? Stoffregen’s answer is grounded in his broader ideas on motion sickness. He thinks that it is linked to “postural sway” – the subtle movements our bodies make when standing or sitting still. People who sway more, he says, will be more susceptible to feeling nauseous.
Stoffregen’s team measured the volunteers’ postural sway by asking them to stand on a force plate while performing simple visual tasks before they played the VR games. Participants who reported experiencing VR sickness showed a wobblier posture.
But why does this affect women more? “Women tend to be smaller than men, they have a different body shape, and they have smaller feet than men of comparable height,” he says. “In a purely physical sense, there’s reduced stability in the female body, so there’s an increased likelihood that any sort of disturbing motion stimulus will lead to instability.”
Not everyone agrees, however. Bas Rokers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison says it’s commonly held that motion sickness is caused when your senses provide conflicting information. “Take seasickness: you’re looking at the horizon and the horizon is steady but your balance system tells you that you are moving,” he says.
Rokers’s team has explored whether this could apply to VR-induced nausea. “We found that people who are more able to detect that something is different between what their eyes are telling them and what their balance system is telling them are more likely to develop motion sickness,“ he says. ”And, on average, women are better at picking subtle visual differences than men, when taken as a group.”
To solve the VR problem, it seems, we’ll first have to settle why people get motion sickness.