Why does reading in the back seat make you feel bad?

Why does reading in the back seat make you feel bad? – Jane, 10, from Coburg North, Australia.

Hi Jane, your question about why reading in the back seat makes you feel bad is very good. The answer has to do with our eyes, our ears and our brain.

Reading in the back seat can make you feel bad because your eyes and ears are arguing that your brain is trying to calm down!



Read more:
Curious children: Why do we skip our ears?


When you are reading in the back seat, your eyes see that your book is still. Your eyes tell your brain that you are still.

But your ears feel that the car is moving. Your ears tell your brain that you are moving.

How can your ears say that you are moving?

Your ears not only listen, they also help with your balance.

Your ear has three main parts:

  • the outer ear is the bit you can see on the side of someone’s head
  • the middle ear is the eardrum and some bones and small muscles
  • The inner ear is the part of your ear that can help you with your balance.
The ear includes more than what you see outside.
sanjayart / Shutterstock

Your inner ear contains cells that have hairs that protrude from the top. Scientists call these “hair cells.”

Some of these hair cells help us listen. When sound hits those hair cells, the hairs move and the cells send signals to the brain. Our brains use those signals to listen.

Other hair cells help us maintain balance. When the car in which we are sitting moves, that movement causes the hairs of these hair cells to move and send different signals to the brain. Our brain uses these different signals to say that we are moving.

Why doesn’t the brain like this?

Some people’s brains don’t like it when their eyes say they are still but their ears say they are moving.

When the eyes and ears argue like this, the brain may think that something dangerous could be about to happen.

If this happens, the brain can prepare the body to fight or escape (scientists call this the “fight or flight” response).

The conflict between our eyes and ears makes the brain think that something dangerous could happen.
wavebreakmedia / Shutterstock

One of the things the brain can do is take blood from the stomach to give it to the muscles.

Giving blood to muscles can help us fight or escape. But taking blood from the stomach can make us feel sick.

What can you do about it?

If reading in the back seat makes you feel sick, you may need to resolve the discussion between your eyes and your ears.

One way to do this is to stop reading and look out the car window. This could help your eyes to tell your brain that you are moving while watching the world go by, and your ears to tell your brain that you are moving when you feel the car is moving.



Read more:
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But this suggestion will not work for everyone. Some people will still feel sick when traveling by car, even if they are not reading.

This is because while our eyes and ears help us to balance, so do our skin and our muscles. This creates many opportunities for arguments that our brain has to solve!


Hello curious guys! Do you have any questions you would like an expert to answer? Ask an adult to send your question to [email protected]

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