Video

Roller-coaster's 'weird sensations' perceived differently with age

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.

Children and adults may view unpredictable movement as pleasure — or torture

There's a reason why rides tend to bring sheer exultation for kids and shakier feelings for their parents 2:28

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."

Watch the video as CBC's Christine Birak experiences this first-hand in the lab.  
CBC's Christine Birak provides show and tell from inside a spinning room 0:48

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."

When our eyes and balance system in the inner ears send opposing signals to the brain the mismatch can be disorienting. (Six Flags New England/Associated Press)

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.

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.