Proprioception: Balance and Phantom Limbs

30 Motion Sickness

Learning Objectives

Understand what sensory cues are in conflict when people get motion sick.

Be able to explain how postural instability is related to motion sickness.

Although a number of conditions can produce motion sickness, it is generally thought that it is evoked from a mismatch in sensory cues between vestibular, visual, and proprioceptive signals (Yates, Miller, & Lucot, 1998). For example, reading a book in a car on a winding road can produce motion sickness, whereby the accelerations experienced by the vestibular system do not match the visual input. However, if one looks out the window at the scenery going by during the same travel, no sickness occurs because the visual and vestibular cues are in alignment.

Sea sickness, a form of motion sickness, appears to be a special case and arises from unusual vertical oscillatory and roll motion. Human studies have found that low frequency oscillations of 0.2 Hz and large amplitudes (such as found in large seas during a storm) are most likely to cause motion sickness, with higher frequencies offering little problems. At frequency oscillations of 2 Hz or above, motion sickness ceases completely, although discomfort and injury can still occur. It’s possible that high frequency oscillations happen so quickly that the vestibular system doesn’t have time to properly function to send the proper signals to the brain, so no motion sickness occurs as the visual and vestibular cues are not clashing, but much more research is needed to determine a proper explanation to this phenomena.


A boat travels across some rough water. If you get motion sickness, it will definitely happen here.
Fig.3.7.1. Coast Guard. Lifeboat A common treatment of motion sickness is Dramamine, which helps to reduce the sensitivity of input from your vestibular system to the rest of your body. (Credit: Mike Baird. Provided by: Flikr. License: CC-BY 2.0)

It is often difficult to predict who will experience motion sickness and who won’t. One thing that predicts motion sickness is postural instability. Normally, the muscles in our legs and our core body muscles automatically contract and relax, in response to sensory cues from proprioceptors in the muscles and tendons and pressure sensors on our feet, to automatically adjust our posture when the floor tilts. However, if the floor is moving in an unpredictable pattern, it is more difficult for us to keep stable and we sway. Tom Stoffregen at the University of Minnesota has shown that the amount a person sways in response to unpredictable motion of the floor predicts whether or not that person will experience motion sickness. The nature of any causal link between postural stability and motion sickness is not yet known; nor do we know whether this connection is mediated by cue conflict like the above examples. But it is one more clue to help us understand why people experience motion sickness.

The psychological aspects of motion sickness:

Dobie (2019) in “Motion Sickness: A Motion Adaptation Syndrome” reveals a complex interplay between cognitive processes, emotional states, and individual susceptibility. The psychological factors such as anticipation, stress, and previous negative experiences significantly affect motion sickness, which is often perceived merely as a physical complaint (Dobie, 2019). Motion sickness symptoms can be exacerbated by these factors, emphasizing the cognitive-emotional components. Furthermore, Dobie (2019) provides evidence that adaptation to motion can mitigate symptoms over time by recalibrating sensory expectations. In view of this adaptability, the mind and body interact dynamically in response to motion, emphasizing psychological resilience and habituation to different motion environments.



  1. The sensory cues in conflict when someone experiences motion sickness are vestibular, visual, and _______.
    A. Proprioceptive
    B. Haptic
    C. Auditory
    D. Environmental
  2. What frequency are you more likely to get sea sick while experiencing?
    A. A low frequency and small amplitudes
    B. A high frequency and small amplitudes
    C. A low frequency and large amplitudes
    D. A high frequency and large amplitudes
  3. The muscles in our legs and core automatically _________, because of the sensory cues from __________.
    A. Stay relaxed; proprioceptors
    B. Contract and relax; proprioceptors
    C. Stiffen up; visual cues
    D. Strain themselves; auditory cues
  4. True or False: The amount a person sways in response to unpredictable movements on the floor will determine if they experience any motion sickness.

Answer Key:

  1. A
  2. C
  3. B
  4. True


Authored by: Cheryl Olman
Provided by: University of Minnesota
License: CC-BY-4.0

NOBA, The Vestibular System.
Provided by: Baylor College of Medicine
Adapted by: Bailey Balzer
License: CC BY-NC-SA 4.0


Bonnet, C. T., Faugloire, E., Riley, M. A., Bardy, B. G., & Stoffregen, T. A. (2006). Motion sickness preceded by unstable displacements of the center of pressure. Human movement science, 25(6), 800-820.

Dobie, T. G. (2019). Motion Sickness. In Motion Sickness (pp. 1–32). Springer International Publishing.

Villard, S. J., Flanagan, M. B., Albanese, G. M., & Stoffregen, T. A. (2008). Postural instability and motion sickness in a virtual moving room. Human factors, 50(2), 332-345.

Yates, B. J., Miller A. D., & Lucot, J. B. (1998). Physiological basis and pharmacology of motion sickness: An update. Brain Res Bull, 47, 395–406.


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Introduction to Sensation and Perception Copyright © 2022 by Students of PSY 3031 and Edited by Dr. Cheryl Olman is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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