Roller-coaster's 'weird sensations' perceived differently with age
Children and adults may view unpredictable movement as pleasure — or torture
The exhilaration of a roller-coaster ride at the amusement park may thrill young people, but often leaves their parents on the sidelines.
There's a reason for this, says Prof. Laurence Harris, who studies how our senses affect our perception at York University's Centre for Vision Research in Toronto.
The university lab includes a motion-control chair with a room decorated as a retro kitchen, which physically flips upside down around a seated participant.
"Initially when they are sitting in the chair, they do feel upside down because they are surrounded by this decorated room," Harris said. "When you open the door and they are able to see me standing on the correct ground and the room behind us, they suddenly feel flipped up."
When our eyes and balance system in the inner ears send opposing signals to the brain, the mismatch can be disorienting.
The nausea, vomiting, dizziness and malaise of motion sickness are provoked by the unexpected. It can start with just the anticipation of unpleasantness, Harris said.
"This is how a lot of our brain works, comparing what we think is going to happen to what actually happens. It's errors in that — when you make your expectation and it turns out to be incorrect — that produces these weird sensations."
The brain of a young child is still calibrating its senses and enjoys the lack of predictability. That's why a toddler will giggle when thrown up into the air.
In contrast, adults tend to want to predict how they'll move, and a roller-coaster ride can be overwhelming. About 33 per cent of people feel motion sickness from being on a boat in calm water, but nearly 66 per cent are susceptible in heavier swells, estimates suggest.
As our senses dull with age, the mismatch is less of an issue, which is one reason elderly people often enjoy cruise ship voyages.