Several months ago, VR Heaven — a blog that we, Aaron Santiago (VR software engineer) and Winston Nguyen (VR marketer), run — posted an informal survey on Reddit asking participants how often they experienced VR motion sickness and their gender.
They could answer frequently, sometimes, rarely or never. These are the results:
The full data and our collection method is at VR Heaven. Note: This is not a scientific survey; it’s informal. It had 292 participants, most coming from Reddit, with some coming from Discord groups and family/friends we reached out to on Facebook.
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Over three times as many women reported experiencing motion sickness “frequently” than men (22.6% vs. 7.2%), and 22.6% of women also reported experiencing it “sometimes” vs. 13.8% of men.
Meanwhile, men are more likely to have “never” or “rarely” experienced VR motion sickness.
This makes us wonder why this disparity exists? What is it about VR that makes women more prone to motion sickness than men?
According to contemporary research, women are just more prone to motion sickness in general than men. They’re more susceptible to motion sickness in cars, boats, planes, roller coasters, and other vehicles.
If you took into account those factors, the discrepancy in VR sickness should disappear, meaning VR doesn’t have anything to do with gender-related motion sickness.
Interestingly enough, our survey showed a different result. We asked people how often they experience motion sickness in cars, boats and airplanes with the same multiple choice answers as before: frequently, sometimes, rarely, or never.
After taking into account people’s susceptibility to general motion sickness, we still found a correlation between VR motion sickness and gender:
So what is it about VR that plays a factor in sex and motion sickness? There are several plausible theories out there:
Men dominate the tech industry, so it’s no surprise to hear theories about how headsets were designed with specifications based on men. Whether this is junk science or not, we shall look at the main argument about interpupillary distance:
Interpupillary distance (IPD) is the distance between one eye pupil to the other. Some experts say that if the IPD of a headset is too high, it leads to discomfort and can cause motion sickness.
This argument kinda makes sense: an incorrect IPD is like wearing glasses that are the wrong prescription. This can indeed lead to motion sickness depending on the severity of the IPD mismatch.
A user’s experience levels with flat-screen gaming can predict VR sickness. A skill called “mental rotation,” the capability to work with and explore 3D space in your head, can have an impact on how susceptible a user is to VR sickness.
According to a 2017 report from Statista, men play more games from genres such as 3D action games and first-person shooters, which are both types of flatscreen games that improve mental rotation.
Genres that don’t contribute, like puzzle games and family/farm simulators, are the ones that women play more than others, like first-person shooters. This difference between female gamers and male gamers could explain why women still get sick more often.
Compared to men, women are much less likely to call themselves “gamers.” Even though the statistics say that women play games more than men, it’s not a part of today’s culture for female gamers to take this hobby on as an identity.
Even with the advent of high quality standalone 6-degree-of-freedom headsets, VR is still considered an enthusiast’s hobby, and software purchases in VR heavily favor games. It’s easy to see how having and using a VR headset consistently is something that female users would be hesitant to do.
Many users say that the more you use VR, the less you get sick in VR, sometimes referred to as “VR legs.” If women are less likely to use the technology often, then they also would grow their VR legs less often.
There are a couple other reasons for why women might get VR sickness more than men:
- Hormonal differences. Studies have shown that women are most vulnerable to VR sickness during ovulation.
- Differences in depth cue recognition between genders, although the experiments testing this hypothesis were inconclusive.
Does gender play a role in overcoming VR motion sickness?
We collected data about VR legs, asking participants if they were able to overcome VR motion sickness.
More than two-thirds of all participants who experienced VR sickness were able to grow their VR legs.
Interestingly, our female respondents overcame VR sickness much less often, at less than half.
This suggests that there is some relation between VR legs and gender. It could be that women are physically less able to overcome VR sickness, or like we suggested above, they are less likely to use VR consistently.
Direction for future research
There is little research on the effects of a mismatched IPD on VR sickness, and even less research on the effect of gaming experience. We would love to see more research on VR legs as well. Research like this could help the technology become more inclusive and more palatable for everyone, and could bring on the fabled VR revolution even sooner.