Talking with U of M

Talking motion sickness with U of M

women in the passenger seat of car puts her hand on her eyebrows
Credit: Getty Images

In advance of spring and summer road trips, Tom Stoffregen, a professor in the School of Kinesiology, explains motion sickness and how to help manage negative symptoms. 

Q: What is motion sickness?
Prof. Stoffregen: 
Motion sickness involves feelings of discomfort or nausea in settings with unusual demands on our ability to control and stabilize our eyes, head and bodies — from car and water travel to fairground rides, immersive VR environments, IMAX cinema and cell phones.  When we struggle with stabilization, we may enter into a state of persistent instability, or general wobbliness, that causes motion sickness symptoms.

Q: How is motion sickness diagnosed and what are treatment options?
Prof. Stoffregen: 
Most of the specific symptoms of motion sickness occur with many disorders, so that a “symptom checklist” generally is not helpful. The most reliable way to tell if a person is motion sick is to ask them. That is, people generally know when they are sick. Research indicates the risk of motion sickness can be predicted from quantitative measurements of movement of the head and body during ordinary activities, such as standing. Treatment options include over-the-counter and prescription medications. Recent research indicates it may be possible to predict and prevent motion sickness associated with interactive technologies by changing the characteristics of virtual displays so that they tend to increase the stability of bodily control.

Q: Why do only certain people experience motion sickness?
Prof. Stoffregen: 
People differ in every kind of physical skill. These natural differences extend to our ability to restore stable control when the body is perturbed. People who are able to do this more quickly are less prone to motion sickness. Separately, physical characteristics of the body can influence the likelihood of destabilization and, therefore, the risk of motion sickness. For example, because women tend to be shorter overall and, separately, to have a lower center of mass, the female body is more sensitive to external movements on a ship or in a virtual environment. This may explain why women are more likely than men to experience motion sickness. 

Q: Is there any way to prevent or manage symptoms of motion sickness?
Prof. Stoffregen: 
For unknown reasons, ginger helps to prevent motion sickness. Cruise passengers can benefit from eating a ginger cookie, or sucking on ginger hard candy. The best way to prevent or manage motion sickness is to reduce the degree of bodily stabilization that you require. This can be done by sitting rather than standing, leaning back rather than sitting up, and closing your eyes. I advise cruise passengers to find a comfortable chair on the open deck, to look at the horizon or close their eyes, to use headphones or ear buds to listen to a book or music and to avoid reading or looking at any electronic devices. 

Q: What research are you currently working on?
Prof. Stoffregen:
We are doing an experiment to determine whether motion sickness may be related to unstable control of gaze, or our ability to control our eyes so as to look at just what we want to look at. Using a head-mounted virtual reality system in which people walk around a virtual world, we’re collecting data on movement of the head and eyes to determine whether motion sickness may be preceded by unstable patterns of gaze. 

Tom Stoffregen is a professor in the School of Kinesiology and specializes in perception and action. Dr. Stoffregen's research has been funded by the National Institutes of Health, and the European Commission. Currently, his research on cybersickness is funded by a 4-year grant from the National Science Foundation. 


About the College of Education and Human Development
The University of Minnesota College of Education and Human Development (CEHD) strives to teach, advance research and engage with the community to increase opportunities for all individuals. As the third largest college on the Twin Cities campus, CEHD research and specialties focus on a range of challenges, including: educational equity, teaching and learning innovations, children’s mental health and development, family resilience, and healthy aging. Learn more at 

About “Talking...with U of M”
“Talking...with U of M” is a resource whereby University of Minnesota faculty answer questions on current and other topics of general interest. Feel free to republish this content. If you would like to schedule an interview with the faculty member or have topics you’d like the University of Minnesota to explore for future “Talking...with U of M,” please contact University Public Relations at [email protected].

Media Contacts

Rachel Cain

University Public Relations