An Ecological Theory of Motion Sickness and Postural Instability

Gary E. Riccio, Thomas A. Stoffregen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

445 Scopus citations


In this article we present a new theory of motion sickness. In the sensory conflict theory, changes in stimulation of perceptual systems are believed to be responsible for motion sickness. We discuss the fact that these changes in stimulation are not independent of the animal-environment interaction, but are determined by corresponding changes in the constraints operating on the control of action. Thus, provocative situations may be characterized by novel demands on the control of action as well as by novel patterns of stimulation. Our hypothesis is that animals become sick in situations in which they do not possess (or have not yet learned) strategies that are effective for the maintenance of postural stability. We identify a broad range of situations over which the occurrence of motion sickness is related to factors that should influence postural stability. This allows us to establish a logical link between motion sickness and postural stability. Our analysis implies that an understanding of stability should be an important part of the agenda in research on perception and action in general. We suggest that postural instability could be related to the concept of dynamical disease which has been developed in the literature on nonlinear physiological control systems. We conclude with suggestions for research based on the new approach. © 1991, Taylor & Francis Group, LLC. All rights reserved.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)195-240
Number of pages46
JournalEcological Psychology
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1991


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