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Reduction of cybersickness during and immediately following noisy galvanic vestibular stimulation

Abstract

The mechanism underlying cybersickness during virtual reality (VR) exposure is still poorly understood, although research has highlighted a causal role for visual–vestibular sensory conflict. Recently established methods for reducing cybersickness include galvanic vestibular stimulation (GVS) to mimic absent vestibular cues in VR, or vibration of the vestibular organs to add noise to the sensory modality. Here, we examined if applying noise to the vestibular system using noisy-current GVS affects sickness severity in VR. Participants were exposed to one of the two VR games that were classified as either moderately or intensely nauseogenic. The VR content lasted for 50 min and was broken down into three blocks: 30 min of gameplay during exposure to either noisy GVS (± 1750 μA) or sham stimulation (0 μA), and 10 min of gameplay before and after this block. We characterized the effects of noisy GVS in terms of post-minus-pre-exposure cybersickness scores. In the intense VR condition, we found a main effect of noisy vestibular stimulation on a verbal cybersickness scale, but not for questionnaire measures of cybersickness. Participants reported lower cybersickness scores during and directly after exposure to GVS. However, this difference was quickly extinguished (~ 3–6 min) after further VR exposure, indicating that sensory adaptation did not persist after stimulation was terminated. In contrast, there were no differences between the sham and GVS group for the moderate VR content. The results show the potential for reducing cybersickness with non-invasive sensory stimulation. We address possible mechanisms for the observed effects, including noise-induced sensory re-weighting.

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Data availability

The data that support the findings of this study are freely available on the Open Science Framework: Weech, S., Wall, T., and Barnett-Cowan, M. (2019). Reduction of cybersickness during and immediately following noisy galvanic vestibular stimulation. Retrieved from https://osf.io/wv83s/

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Acknowledgements

This research was supported by Grants to MBC from Oculus Research, the Ontario Research Fund and Canadian Foundation for Innovation’s John R. Evans Leaders Fund, and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada. The industry sponsor had no influence in the design or execution of the current research. All authors declare that there are no conflicts of interests.

Author information

All authors contributed to the study conception and design. Material preparation, data collection and analysis were performed by SW and TW. The first draft of the manuscript was written by SW and all authors commented on previous versions of the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

Correspondence to Séamas Weech.

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Communicated by Winston D Byblow.

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Weech, S., Wall, T. & Barnett-Cowan, M. Reduction of cybersickness during and immediately following noisy galvanic vestibular stimulation. Exp Brain Res (2020) doi:10.1007/s00221-019-05718-5

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Keywords

  • Virtual reality
  • Sensory re-weighting
  • Sensory conflict
  • Multisensory integration