What causes travel sickness? A glitch in the brain

Aug 19, 2016

By Dean Burnett

A lot of people, when they travel by car, ship, plane or whatever, end up feeling sick. They’re fine before they get into the vehicle, they’re typically fine when they get out. But whilst in transit, they feel sick. Particularly, it seems, in self-driving cars. Why?

One theory is that it’s due to a weird glitch that means your brain gets confused and thinks it’s being poisoned. This may seem surprising; not even the shoddiest low-budget airline would get away with pumping toxins into the passengers (airline food doesn’t count, and that joke is out of date). So where does the brain get this idea that it’s being poisoned?

Despite being a very “mobile” species, humans have evolved for certain types of movement. Specifically, walking, or running. Walking has a specific set of neurological processes tied into it, so we’ve had millions of years to adapt to it.


Continue reading by clicking the name of the source below.

3 comments on “What causes travel sickness? A glitch in the brain

  • the fluid in your ears obeys physics, travelling at high speeds means it sloshes around even more than usual, so it’s telling the brain “we are really moving”.

    Sloppy. So sloppy. Not a good advert for his book.



    Report abuse

  • @OP – link – Not the vestibular system though; the fluid in your ears obeys physics, travelling at high speeds means it sloshes around even more than usual, so it’s telling the brain “we are really moving”. That means these fundamental regions are getting mixed signals; usually reliable senses are now disagreeing. What the hell can cause that? As far as the lower brain is concerned, only one thing; neurotoxin, aka poison. And what’s the quickest way to get rid of poison? Throw up. And so, we feel nauseous, and often vomit.

    The “mixed signals” as a cause would seem to be born out by some testing.
    Experiments and observations, have been carried on simulators where people are moved to create sensations accompanying visual displays.

    Interestingly, people also can become sea-sick on ships’ bridge crew-training simulators, where the floor, controls and instrument panels are a fixed part of the building, but the rolling sea exterior view is created on screens simulating the windows of a ship’s bridge.

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16370260
    Motion sickness symptoms in a ship motion simulator: effects of inside, outside, and no view.

    This would confirm a conflict between the sensory visual message via the eyes, and the sensory perceptions from the balance organs in the inner ear.

    It gives a better analysis when individual features can be experimentally included or excluded, and comparisons made!



    Report abuse

Leave a Reply

View our comment policy.