Why doesn’t the driver get carsick?

By Seriously Science | August 7, 2014 9:35 am
Photo: flickr/barefootboy

Photo: flickr/barefootboy

If you are one of the unlucky who get carsick, you probably know quite well that being the driver is much less nauseating than being a passenger. But why is this the case? Prior to this study, some scientists thought it had to do with mismatching information from different senses (your eyes may say you are not moving, but your body says differently), and some thought it was due to overstimulation of the inner ear. In this study, researchers from the Israeli Naval Hyperbaric Institute separated different aspects of the experience by having pairs of participants sit in a specially built “nauseogenic” rotating car. In some cases, the subjects’ heads were even yoked together using customized helmets (see Figure 1 below), allowing one person to control the head movements and rotations of the other. The scientists found that being in control of movement seemed to be important in reducing motion sickness — with all other stimuli being equal, the passengers still felt sicker. Teacups, anyone?

Why is the driver rarely motion sick? The role of controllability in motion sickness.

“The central hypothesis of the work is that the dimension of control-no control plays an important role in motion sickness. Although it is generally agreed that having control over a moving vehicle greatly reduces the likelihood of motion sickness, few studies have addressed this issue directly, and the theoretical explanation for this phenomenon is not completely clear. In this study, we equated groups differing in controllability for head movement, vision, activity, and predictability, which have often been suggested in the literature as explanations for the driver’s immunity to motion sickness. Twenty-two pairs of yoked subjects were exposed to nauseogenic rotation. One subject of each pair had control over the rotation and head movements, while the other was exposed passively to the same motion stimulus. Subjects who had control reported significantly fewer motion sickness symptoms and less of a decrement in their well-being, as compared to the yoked subject without control. The results are discussed in relation to Reason’s sensory rearrangement theory and the concept of feed-forward mechanisms in motion perception.”

Bonus figure:

The head-yoking and the two-seat rotating devic

The head-yoking and the two-seat rotating device

Related content:
NCBI ROFL: Study proves driving like an old person is contagious.
Does singing along to your favorite songs make you a worse driver?
NCBI ROFL: Study finds that watching 3D movies makes 54.8% of people want to vomit.

  • Chandrakant Kulkarni

    A very interesting research, indeed! Well, my friend Mr. Vijay Lambhe is perfectly all right when he is driving a car HIMSELF. But when sitting as a passenger in a car, he immediately starts vomiting.. has severe headache etc.
    What medications – therapy should be given to him for getting rid of his complaint?

    • Don’t Even Try It!

      dramamine (sp?)

      • Chandrakant Kulkarni

        Thank you, Sir.
        I will surely find equivalent of dramamine (sp) in India – and recommend it to Vijay (through a doctor’s prescription, of course).
        If it works, you deserve a Grand Party from me & Vijay, Sir!

  • joe1234x

    Umm, this does not seem like good research to me, unless you were studying why do people in cars with their head strapped to another person’s head get motion sick? I can’t think of any situation where one would not get motion sick if someone else is controlling the motion of your head. I understand their theory, but having someone else control the (nearly constant) motion of a car driving down the highway is nowhere near having your head whipped back and forth out of your control.

  • Natalie

    I think this is on the right track. For my husband it’s all a control issue. He gets sick when someone else is driving, EXCEPT for those of our children HE taught to drive. The other child driving will make him as sick as anyone else. The ones he taught, he says, drive like him, so he approves of the way they drive. (Yet they speed, make illegal turns, don’t always bother to stay in their lanes, etc., just like he taught them.) He is a control freak about a lot of things, and his mother is the same way. And they both get car sick with other drivers in control.
    When I got a new car with cruise control, I drove almost 100 miles at a preset speed, with him sitting directly behind me (he says that is the only place he can even tolerate), He didn’t know I had cruise control on, and he swore I continually stepped on the gas, then the brake, and varied my speed by as much as 20 mph at times. All in his imagination, and his fears. His sister was in the passenger seat, and confirmed it to him. For once in his life he had nothing to say!


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