Sensory Conflict Theory

The Sensory Conflict Theory, also known as the Vection-Conflict Theory, is a psychological concept that explains how conflicting sensory information received by the brain can cause feelings of disorientation and discomfort. It suggests that when the sensory inputs from different modalities, such as vision, vestibular (balance and spatial orientation), and proprioception (awareness of body position and movement), do not align or provide contradictory information, it leads to a state of sensory conflict. This conflict creates a perceptual mismatch and can result in symptoms like dizziness, motion sickness, and spatial disorientation.


1. Explanation

The Sensory Conflict Theory seeks to explain why individuals experience certain symptoms when their sensory inputs are contradictory or mismatched. It explores the relationship between various sensory systems and how they contribute to our perception of the environment.

2. Sensory Modalities

There are several sensory modalities involved in the Sensory Conflict Theory:

  • Vision: Visual input received through the eyes plays a significant role in determining our perception of motion and spatial orientation.
  • Vestibular: The vestibular system, located in the inner ear, provides information about balance and spatial orientation. It detects movement, gravity, and head position.
  • Proprioception: Proprioceptors are specialized nerve receptors found in muscles, tendons, and joints. They provide information about body position and movement, allowing us to have a sense of our own body in space.

3. Sensory Conflict

Sensory conflict arises when the information received from these different sensory modalities contradicts or fails to align. This conflict can occur in various situations, such as:

  • When visual cues suggest movement, but other sensory inputs indicate the absence of movement.
  • When experiencing motion in a vehicle while remaining stationary (e.g., reading a book in a car).
  • When exposed to a visually moving environment while being physically stationary (e.g., watching a fast-paced movie in a stationary seat).

4. Symptoms

When sensory conflict occurs, it may lead to several physical and psychological symptoms, including:

  • Dizziness
  • Motion sickness
  • Nausea
  • Disorientation
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches

5. Adaptation and Habituation

Through repeated exposure to sensory conflicts, individuals can undergo adaptation and habituation. This process involves the brain gradually adjusting to the conflicting sensory inputs and reducing the associated symptoms. Adaptation can occur through increased exposure to the conflicting stimuli or actively engaging in activities that promote sensory integration and spatial orientation.

The Sensory Conflict Theory provides valuable insights into how our sensory systems interact and influence our perception of the world. It has applications in fields like virtual reality technology, motion sickness prevention, and aviation training, where understanding and managing sensory conflict can greatly enhance user experiences and safety.