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New research from U of M kinesiology professor Tom Stoffregen has proven what sailors have been saying for thousands of years -- that staring at the horizon while at sea really can help with seasickness. Photo courtesy Creative Commons.

U of M Moment: Seasick? Research confirms that staring at the horizon really does help

February 17, 2011

It’s an old sailor’s axiom that staring at the horizon from the deck of a ship helps ward off seasickness. But why is this the case when on land, focusing on a faraway point (for example, while looking across the Grand Canyon) may cause dizziness? U of M kinesiology professor Tom Stoffregen’s latest research attempts to explain the phenomenon.

"Everybody's making the same recommendation.  You're on a ship, you don't feel stable, get up on the deck and look at the horizon.  Well that suddenly becomes weird because if you do that at the Grand Canyon it makes you unstable and makes you dizzy.  How is it that the same thing on a ship would have the opposite effect?  Well, it turns out everybody knows this story, but nobody had ever done the research."

Stoffregen’s findings are the first to scientifically prove thousands of years of sailing advice.

"What we found was that when people looked at the thing that was very close to them they didn't sway very much, same as on land. When they looked at the thing on the ship that was far away, but still part of the ship, they swayed more, same as on land. When they looked at the horizon, which is even farther away, their sway went right back down and it was the same as if they were looking at something right in front of their face. The first, sort of, big picture result is that we confirmed what all the sailors have been saying for thousands years. Okay, it really does help if you're on a ship to go stand on the deck and look at the horizon.  This is, to the best of my knowledge, the first scientific confirmation of this thousand year old story."

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Tags: College of Education and Human Development

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