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Watching 3D: What's It Doing To Our Eyes and Brains?

What Is 3D Doing to our Brains?

In essence, 3D technology is an optical illusion. We trick our brains into seeing three dimensions on a two-dimensional plane; we “see” depth on a flat surface. Anyone who’s found the dinosaur in one of those patterned images in the mall (called a stereogram), knows that a bit of a headache develops if you stare long enough.

“Your eyes are having to work harder. The brain is sending extra impulses to keep the eyes in alignment," explains Dr. James Salz, an official spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology and a 2003 winner of the organization’s Lifetime Achievement Award. “If you’re asking your eyes to fuse in 3D all the time, you will feel the extra strain, the motion sickness.”

Google “3D motion sickness” and you’ll find countless people who have complained of motion sickness (kinetosis), headaches and nausea when watching 3D movies. A recent study at Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands found roughly 17% of subjects experienced symptoms of nausea when exposed to 3D text at a distance three meters away.

The explanation behind the discomfort is fairly basic: a contradiction is occurring. Our brain is being told the body is moving by the eyes, yet the vestibular (balance) centers in the inner ear and the mechanoreceptors in our joints says it’s sitting still. The confusion leads to the aforementioned side effects, as your brain becomes unsure how to deal with the problem.