The Science Behind Why You Feel Sick When You Try to Read in the Car

Posted by K R on

Some people get carsick when they try to read on the road, other people do it blissfully, but if you’re one of those folks who just can’t get through a page without feeling nauseous, there’s finally a good reason for it. Essentially, your brain thinks it’s being poisoned. Here’s why. The Science of Us explains in greater detail, but here’s the highlights, from an interview with neuroscientist and author Dean Burnett on NPR. In short, it all starts with the Thalamus, one part of your brain responsible for interpreting sensory signals. When you’re moving normally, or even driving, your body and brain are getting the same signals—you’re in motion, you feel the rumbling or rocking of your movement, you may even feel the distance you’re covering. When you’re moving but reading on the other hand, things are different, and those signals don’t jibe:
So what’s happening there is the brain’s getting mixed messages. It’s getting signals from the muscles and the eyes saying we are still and signals from the balance sensors saying we’re in motion. Both of these cannot be correct. There’s a sensory mismatch there. And in evolutionary terms, the only thing that can cause a sensory mismatch like that is a neurotoxin or poison. So the brain thinks, essentially, it’s been being poisoned. When it’s been poisoned, the first thing it does is get rid of the poison, a.k.a. throwing up. And as a result — so, like, as soon as the brain gets confused by anything like that, it says, oh, I don’t know what to do, so just be sick, just in case. And as a result, we get motion sickness because the brain’s constantly worried about being poisoned.

Read More: LifeHacker

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