Why Reading In The Car Makes You Carsick

Brilliance | Dec. 08, 2017

Are you reading this in the car right now? Feeling a little sick? You're not alone. Nearly 80% of the general population experiences motion sickness at some point in their life. That's because although humans have changed in many ways over our evolutionary history, our brains still need to catch up to modern travel methods.

That sickly feeling you get reading in a moving vehicle all starts with your thalamus. Neuroscientist Dean Burnett from Cardiff University explains to Melissa Dahl at New York Magazine: "It's the job of the thalamus to interpret all the sensory signals the body sends its way." In everyday life, those sensory signals come from your muscles as you move, your eyes as you observe what's going on around you, and even your inner ear, which contains balance sensors that tell you which way is up and how much you're moving. But when you're reading in a car, your muscles and eyes tell your thalamus that you're sitting still while your inner ear says that you're in motion.

This mismatch is what causes the unpleasant feeling. Your brain may not understand modern transport, but it does understand that contradictory signals can be caused by poison, so it reacts as if that's the case. What happens when you're being poisoned? Dizziness, nausea, and possibly vomit. However, the effects are different for different people. Some can handle cars and trains, but not boat rides. Others are fine in the backseat, but they must look out the window. This action can help their brains reconcile that they're indeed moving by taking in external information.

If you've never experienced motion sickness, consider yourself well adapted. The rest of us will be catching up on our favorite podcasts, thank you very much. You can learn more about different versions of motion sickness by watching the videos below.

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