Cybersickness: A Visuo-Vestibular Multisensory Integration Approach

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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Virtual Reality (VR) has grown in popularity in recent years. Applications range from recreation and gaming, to training, education, and rehabilitation. Although technological improvements are stark since the first VR headsets, a troubling problem remains where up to 80% of VR users will experience debilitating symptoms of nausea, disorientation, headaches and fatigue. This cybersickness therefore remains a significant barrier to VR uptake. Sensory conflict appears to be the likely cause of cybersickness. In typical VR scenarios, vision signals that the user is moving through the virtual environment while the vestibular system signals that the user is stationary. Thus, in order to adapt to the VR environment and reduce cybersickness the brain must re-weight vestibular cues for self-motion. While this multisensory re-weighting may reduce cybersickness, vestibular processing may be significantly altered following adaptation to the virtual environment. Such VR after-effects have not been extensively explored.
The main thesis of my PhD is that in order to adapt to VR sensory conflict, the central nervous system re-weights vestibular sensory information in accordance with principles of sensory cue integration. This vestibular re-weighting reduces cybersickness during VR exposure, but may entail alterations in vestibular sensory processing after exposure. First, I outline a framework of VR adaptation based on optimal multisensory integration models, in which vestibular cues are re-weighted during and after exposure to visual cues for self-motion in VR. According to this framework, I then explore how vestibular processing at both the perceptual and physiological level is altered by exposure to self-motion in VR. Next, I investigate methods of cybersickness prevention based on vestibular down-weighting and sensory augmentation through artificial vestibular stimulation (Galvanic Vestibular Stimulation, GVS). Finally, I also quantify the natural equivalent of GVS-induced self-motion in order to finesse the technique for cybersickness prevention. Overall, these findings highlight the key role of visuo-vestibular multisensory integration in VR, describing previously unknown after-effects of VR exposure and providing potential future avenues for cybersickness reduction.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Ferrè, Elisa Raffaella, Supervisor
Thesis sponsors
Award date1 May 2020
Publication statusUnpublished - 2020


  • Vestibular system
  • Cybersickness
  • Virtual Reality
  • Multisensory Integration
  • GVS
  • Vision

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