Dr. Behrang Keshavarz
Dr. Behrang Keshavarz of The KITE Research Institute at UHN is the senior author of the study. (Photo: UHN)

Passengers in a stationary train often feel a false sense of self-motion when a neighbouring train starts to move. Immersive videos and virtual reality devices can also create a similar perception of illusory self-motion. These sensations can cause dizziness and nausea known as visually induced motion sickness.

Dr. Behrang Keshavarz, scientist at The KITE Research Institute at UHN, recently discovered that when users listen to their favourite playlist, the effects of visually induced motion sickness can be reduced.

The research team conducted a study in which 80 participants were asked to view a video of a bike ride through a city. To make the video, a camera was mounted on the handlebars of a bicycle and captured footage of bumpy and even roads.

The researchers then assigned study participants to listen to one of the following soundtracks while watching the videos:

  • street sounds captured by the camera
  • different tracks of preselected classical music, ranging from energetic to calming
  • a curated playlist of the participants' favourite music

"We found that the nature of the music isn't a crucial factor for reducing visually induced motion sickness," says Dr. Keshavarz. "That is, happy music wasn't more effective than sad music, and energetic music wasn't more effective than calm music.

"In contrast, whether the music is preferred by the listener does have a significant effect on visually induced motion sickness. When participants were able to select their favourite music to be played while watching the video, they experienced significantly less side effects and felt a greater sense of well-being."

The presence of music had a positive effect on the well-being of study participants in general. The study also showed that energetic music created a greater sense of self-motion in participants compared to calm music.

"The feeling of being transported to another place and the sensations of motion are usually desired for virtual reality applications, including those used in healthcare and rehabilitation," says Dr. Keshavarz. "By allowing users to select their favourite music as part of a soundtrack, application and game developers may be able to reduce unwanted dizziness and nausea.

"More energetic music may also improve the immersive quality of the experience."

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