The Science Behind Why You Can’t Read in the Car

For many of us, carsickness is the bane of every automotive experience: It’s always there, preventing us from navigating with

Byposted on Monday 18, 2017, 5:50AM

For many of us, carsickness is the bane of every automotive experience: It’s always there, preventing us from navigating with our phone or even reading a book to pass the time without the sudden onset of a headache, cold sweats, and crippling nausea. It’s like being hungover, but without the fun drinking part that precedes it.

What exactly is going on here? Why do some of us fall violently ill just by glancing at a book in a moving car, while others can read through an entire road trip without any problem at all? Here’s the scientific lowdown on what makes carsickness tick, as well as what you can do to prevent (or at least minimize) its wickedly brutal effects.

The Motion Sickness Mystery

These days, the prevailing belief is that motion sickness arises from a disagreement between your eyes’ visual input and your inner ear’s sense of acceleration and/or movement. For instance, if you’re in a plane that starts to bank sharply to the left, your inner ear tells you you’re moving even though your eyes tell you you’re clearly sitting still in your seat. The same holds true for reading a book in a car, and anyone who’s ever gotten motion sickness in a movie theater knows the opposite can be just as uncomfortable.

It’s not that simple, though (why would it be?): The scientific community still isn’t 100-percent convinced that sensory disagreement alone is responsible for the motion sickness people experience in cars (or boats, or planes), nor are they sure why nearly one third of us are more sensitive to it than others, or why women seem to get it more than men — there simply isn’t a consensus, and since nobody’s funneling millions of dollars into motion sickness research, definitive answers don’t seem close at hand.

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