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Visually induced motion sickness can be alleviated by pleasant odors

Abstract

Visually induced motion sickness (VIMS) is a common side effect in virtual environments and simulators. Several countermeasures against VIMS exist, but a reliable method to prevent or ease VIMS is unfortunately still missing. In the present study, we tested whether olfactory cues can alleviate VIMS. Sixty-two participants were exposed to a 15-min-long video showing a first-person-view bicycle ride that had successfully induced VIMS in previous studies. Participants were randomly assigned to one of three groups; the first group was exposed to a pleasant odor (rose) while watching the video, the second group was exposed to an unpleasant odor (leather), and the third group was not exposed to any odor. VIMS was measured using a verbal rating scale (0–20) and the Simulator Sickness Questionnaire. Results showed that only half of the participants who were exposed to the odor did notice it (n = 21), whereas the other half failed to detect the odor. However, among those participants who did notice the odor, the rose scent significantly reduced the severity of VIMS compared to the group that did not notice the odor. A moderate positive correlation between odor sensitivity and VIMS showed that participants with higher odor sensitivity also reported stronger VIMS. Our results demonstrate that olfaction can modulate VIMS and that a pleasant odor can potentially reduce VIMS. The relationship between olfactory perception, olfactory sensibility, and VIMS is discussed.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Note that the experimental settings (i.e., stimuli, apparatus, and response measures) were identical with a study published recently by Keshavarz and Hecht (2014). In their study, the role of music was tested when participants were exposed to the same video that was used in the present study. Due to the identical procedure, the control group (“no sound”) used by Keshavarz and Hecht (2014) acted as a control group for the present study as well.

  2. 2.

    We chose a nonparametric test over an ANOVA as the sample sizes were small in some of the groups (n < 10) and varied extensively between the groups, violating the assumptions of ANOVAs. However, note that we also calculated ANOVAs and found similar results.

  3. 3.

    Note that the threshold is likely to be one incorporating attention as we did not alert participants to the fact that there was an odor. Thus, the psychophysical threshold in a forced choice scenario could be much lower.

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Acknowledgments

We thank Pia Hauck and Wanja Hemmerich for helping collecting the data and Agnes Muench for technical support. We also thank Firmenich, Switzerland, for kindly providing the odors.

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Correspondence to Behrang Keshavarz.

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Keshavarz, B., Stelzmann, D., Paillard, A. et al. Visually induced motion sickness can be alleviated by pleasant odors. Exp Brain Res 233, 1353–1364 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00221-015-4209-9

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Keywords

  • Visually induced motion sickness
  • Motion sickness
  • Simulator sickness
  • Olfaction
  • Odor
  • Smell
  • Countermeasures