Motion Sickness From Reading and Scrolling Text

Category: Wisdom Kingdom | April 29, 2016 - Reading time: 6 minutes

Motion Sickness from Scrolling Text and Stuff on the Computer. Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS) sort of. Yes, I used to have this problem, I believe. For quite a long time. But I eventually fixed it. My solutions may or may not work for you. But in this article, I will tell you what I experienced and what I did.

What Happened

I had been feeling really sick after reading text on the computer. Dizzy sick. And it was not all the time. Just most of the time. Sometimes, it was OK. But several years ago, I did not have this problem. What changed? I narrowed things down to the activities when I would get sick: browsing the web, reading articles, wikipedia, etc. Static books are OK. Watching movies, playing games (mostly retro) will also be OK for me. This was a serious problem. But why did it happen? I kept asking myself.

One day, I was doing some JQuery scrolling animation for a client. After a few tests, I was sick as hell. Then it hit me. It was the scrolling. I was not reading a lot of text. I was just looking at the scrolling motion and I was the sickest at that time!

But then come to think of it, that was not the first time I encountered scrolling stuff. I have played lots of games and used lots of interfaces that had smooth scrolling panels. And I was OK. So why was that able to sicken me? I then thought of several other instances that made me sick and dizzy. One time when I was playing a 3D PS2 game that rotated the game world a lot. Another time was when I was playing a Unity game. And another was when I was playing an HTML5 2D browser game… So it should not be the 3D rotations. All those had one thing in common. A very high refresh rate. Near 60fps. The older games I played, with 30fps, didn’t make me sick at all. Even in 3D. For most people, high fps means a good experience and less headache. But I found that I cannot stand high FPS. It will give me this kind of motion sickness! I tried to test this out with the TESTUFO website. I immediately preferred the blurry non-smooth floating UFO compared to the 60fps one! The smooth one looks very nice, no doubt, but I just will feel that nausea feeling after looking at it for a short while.

High FPS Smooth Movement Causes Motion Sickness?  I Tested It Out

So, is high fps smooth movement the culprit of my sick feeling after reading text due to smooth motion sickness? I can say with 80% probability that it is! I thought to myself: I will get sick reading articles on the web because I will have to scroll up and down. Browsers are now having a smooth refresh rate (contemporary browsers 60fps or higher, I checked) so their scrolling motions are 60fps smooth! I didn’t feel sick years ago (around 2007), reading text in browsers. Years ago, browsers didn’t really do a lot of smooth scrolling, and even if they did, it wasn’t 60fps. I tried to do an experiment. Pasted a ton of text in MS Word (old version) and tried reading it with the laggy scrolling. No motion sickness. So I disabled smooth scrolling in my main browsers and voila! Problem solved! I can read tons of text with no problem. No dizziness. No nausea.

To disable smooth scrolling on Chrome, you need to go to chrome://flags (a browser relaunch is needed). For Firefox, Options > Advanced.

But PS2 60fps Games Didn't Bug Me??

But there is one more puzzle. I’ve played lots of PS2 games that supposedly have 60fps, and with no problem. After some trial and error, I found that 60fps motion sickness seems related to the distance from the screen. The motion sickness is reduced if viewed from far. So I was playing those games from quite far away. And only when the screen had intense movements like swinging, rotations and panning, would I get sick. But if the screen was viewed close up (reading text), I would get sick even with slight scrolling movements. I can’t sit too far from the screen if the text is small…

I am not sure if this problem and solution is just me, or for a few people, or for a lot of people. But if you feel sick after reading stuff on the web, feel free to try out what I did. Disable smooth scrolling for a while. See if it makes a difference. Thank you for reading!

Update (2018):

I got sick playing Overwatch at 60fps, and tuned the fps down to 45fps. But could not win much because of the disadvantage caused by doing so. I later rigged my monitor to display at 75fps (via NVidia settings, not all monitors/computers support this). The motion sickness went away! This has led me to believe that the sickness also has something to do with 60fps. To be fair, if I play at 75fps and keep slow-turning around exploring maps, I will start getting dizzy nonetheless. But normal gameplay using 75fps with lots of action and quick turns will not make me sick at all anymore.

Update 2 (2019):

I bought a new monitor but used something called Magic Tint and stuck it on the screen. This Magic Tint is meant for car windows and can filter out UV rays, blue light, etc. But after using it on my monitor, I felt no headache and dizziness!! Even with smooth text scrolling, I do not get sick! This also has led me to believe that blue light or super bright LED’s can cause headaches. Filtering them out solves the problem.

Update 3 (2020):

I was trying to find my exact 1000th follower on Twitter, so I smooth-scrolled the follower's list at moderate speed while my eyes were fixed on one part, counting as I scroll.  I finally found that follower after minutes of continuous scrolling while looking at just one spot, and I became very dizzy, even using Magic Tint.  So, i can conclude from this that smooth continuous scrolling does in fact create this dizzy effect.  Lower FPS reduces the smoothness.  Playing fast-paced games even at high FPS eliminates this effect, but the same game played more slowly (slow turns and camera movements) will make it resurface.  What I am doing now:

  • Avoid smooth scrolling, even with Magic Tint
  • Be careful when slow-moving through a map in Overwatch and similar games
  • Use 75fps and above while playing games

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