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The mystery of motion sickness - Rose Eveleth

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Although one third of the population suffers from motion sickness, scientists aren’t exactly sure what causes it. Like the common cold, it's a seemingly simple problem that's still without a cure. And if you think it's bad on a long family car ride, imagine being a motion sick astronaut! Rose Eveleth explains what’s happening in our bodies when we get the car sick blues.

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  • Educator Rose Eveleth
  • Director Tom Gran
  • Narrator Rose Eveleth

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The most common hypothesis for the cause of motion sickness is that it functions as a defense mechanism against neurotoxins. The area postrema in the brain is responsible for inducing vomiting when poisons are detected, and for resolving conflicts between vision and balance. When feeling motion but not seeing it (for example, in a ship with no windows), the inner ear transmits to the brain that it senses motion, but the eyes tell the brain that everything is still. As a result of the discordance, the brain will come to the conclusion that one of them is hallucinating and further conclude that the hallucination is due to poison ingestion. The brain responds by inducing vomiting, to clear the supposed toxin.
Where you sit can make a difference. The front seat of a car, forward cars of a train, upper deck on a boat or wing seats in a plane may give you a smoother ride. Looking out into the distance - instead of trying to read or look at something in the vehicle - can also help.
Get motion sickness often? Here are ten tips to prevent that nausea.
“No one’s ever vomited in our lab,” he said. “But our cruises are a different story.” How one doctor in Minnesota is rethinking motion sickness.
How can a software redesign give you motion sickness?

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About TED-Ed Originals

TED-Ed Original lessons feature the words and ideas of educators brought to life by professional animators. Are you an educator or animator interested in creating a TED-Ed original? Nominate yourself here »

Meet The Creators

  • Educator Rose Eveleth
  • Director Tom Gran
  • Narrator Rose Eveleth

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