Researchers explore how people adapt to virtual reality cybersickness • News Service • Iowa State University

Taylor Doty, Ph.D. psychology and human-computer interaction student, wears a VR headset at Iowa State, 2022. Bigger picture. Christopher Gannon/Iowa State University.

AMES, IA – While virtual reality has been around for decades, a combination of higher-resolution graphics, smoother tracking of user movements, and cheaper, sleeker headsets have propelled immersive technology into arenas beyond games and military training.

In healthcare, virtual reality has been used to prepare surgeons for complicated operations and to help burn patients better manage their pain. In education, it has allowed students to visit world-class museums, historical sites, and even the human brain.

But Jonathan Kelly, professor of psychology and human-computer interaction at Iowa State University, says the biggest obstacle to the widespread use of virtual reality is cybersickness. Previous studies show that more than half of first-time headset users experience the phenomenon within 10 minutes of being exposed to VR.

Many symptoms — nausea, dizziness, headache, eye strain, sweating, and persistent feeling of motion — overlap with other forms of motion sickness. Kelly explained that they are all caused by conflicting sensory information.

“When someone reads a book in a moving car, their eyes recognize a stationary environment while the parts of the inner ear and brain that are involved in balance and spatial orientation pick up accelerations, turns and bumps,” Kelly said.

In a virtual environment, the reverse is true. An individual’s visual system perceives the rush of a roller coaster ride while seated in a coach. Even without a stomach drop or whiplash, dissonance can make someone want to throw.

“We know that people can adapt to seasickness through repeated exposure. After several days on a boat, they will start to feel better,” Kelly said. “My research team and I want to determine how well people can adapt to cybersickness and whether their adaptation in a virtual reality experience can affect others.”

Early results from a study of 150 undergraduate students indicate that symptoms improve with just three 20-minute VR sessions over a week, but a higher percentage of women and those prone to motion sickness find it harder to adapt to cybersickness and different VR environments.

Dinosaurs and shadows

Last year, Kelly, with a Ph.D. psychology and human-computer interaction student Taylor Doty and two professors from the Department of Industrial and Manufacturing Systems Engineering, Associate Professor Stephen Gilbert and Professor Michael Dorneich, selected participants who did not yet have experience with VR technology.

During the first three visits to Kelly’s lab, participants played the same VR game, Jurassic World Aftermath, for up to 20 minutes.

“We wanted the game to be fun enough that participants would only stop playing out of cybersickness, not boredom,” Kelly said.

Taylor Doty, a psychology graduate student, uses a VR set, while Maddie Friedman, a psychology senior, measures her user experience.  (Christopher Gannon/Iowa State University)

Psychology senior Maddie Friedman measures Ph.D. student Taylor Doty’s VR experience. Bigger picture. Christopher Gannon/Iowa State University.

As participants dodged the dinosaurs to solve mysteries, they were asked every four minutes to rate their cybersickness symptoms on a 10-point scale. Along with this “sickness rating,” the researchers measured how long participants played during each session.

During the fourth and final visit to the lab, participants played under the same conditions, but with a narrative VR puzzle game, Shadow Point.

Kelly explained that the two games included in the study were rated by the makers as “moderately intense” for cybersickness. The researchers also removed optional comfort settings in games (for example, limiting peripheral vision with headsets to reduce visual stimulation) to maximize participants’ chances of feeling sick.

First results

Fifty percent of participants in the first session said they felt too sick to complete the full gaming session. This number dropped to half by the third session.

“This, along with the finding that day three sickness rates were 20% lower than day one, shows that people adapt when playing the same game repeatedly,” Kelly said.

The sickness rate for the second game, Shadow Point, was also 20% lower among participants who had already had three sessions with Jurassic World compared to a control group experiencing VR for the first time. Kelly said it demonstrates some of the adaptation to one VR environment transferred to another.

But the first results of the study show that some people have more severe cybersickness and have more difficulty adjusting to virtual reality. Disease severity ratings were 50% higher for women than for men across all four sessions.

“We also found a correlation where people who reported frequent motion sickness from cars and boats also experienced greater cybersickness from VR. It’s possible that people with more frequent motion sickness didn’t adapt as easily because they felt sicker with virtual reality,” Kelly said.

Shorter sessions with low-intensity VR games could offer a smoother and more effective approach.

The research team aims to conduct future studies to explore this and the gender difference with cybersickness. Kelly said their long-term goal is to develop a training protocol that would come with a VR headset to help new users acclimate to virtual settings.

The study conducted last year was funded by the LAS Social Science Seed Grants, which provide competitive funding to enhance academic research in the social sciences and enable the collection of preliminary data to support future research proposals. extramural grants.

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