Phantom vibration syndrome: Ever think your phone vibrates when it doesn’t?

Nadine Bells
Shine On
September 17, 2012

Ever reach for the vibrating phone in your pocket only to realize it wasn't vibrating after all? A new study suggests you're not alone in doing so — but you might also be a little neurotic.

The study, published by the journal Computers in Human Behavior, comes out of Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne, where researchers found that 89 per cent of undergraduates reported experiencing "phantom vibration syndrome" at least once. On average, they experienced that nonexistent vibrating twice a month.

The researchers can't conclude whether the vibrations are hallucinations, misinterpretations of sensory input, or a form of social contagion, but they did identify some factors that make some people more prone to experiencing them.

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Heavy mobile phone users who place great emotional importance on messages tend to experience the phantom vibrations most.

Extroverts and neurotic individuals are among those placing such importance on their phone's messages.

"Extraverts, the theory goes, check their phones a lot because keeping in touch with friends is a big part of their lives. Neurotics, meanwhile, worry a lot about the status of their relationships — so while they may not get as many text messages, they care a lot about what they say," the Sydney Morning Herald reports.

While "phantom vibration syndrome" isn't a real syndrome, scientists are weighing in on the phenomenon.

Alex Blaszczynski, psychologist and chairman of the School of Psychology at the University of Sydney, attributes the vibrations to triggered electrical signals.

"I expect it's related to some of the electrical signals coming through in a transmission, touching on the surrounding nerves, giving a feeling of a vibration," Blaszczynski tells the Sydney Morning Herald. "I expect what's happening is that it is causing some physiological effect."

He later adds that the vibrations could very well be real sensations, likely electromagnetic interferences similar to what occurs when a cell phone is placed near a speaker and a buzzing sound emerges.

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Larry Rosen, professor of psychology at California State University, has a simpler explanation. According to IANS, Rosen believes that because people are often anticipating a call "they often interpret unrelated stimuli, such as a chair leg dragging against the floor or trousers rubbing their leg, as a phone call."

Michael Rothberg, a clinician investigator at Baystate Medical Center in Springfield, Massachusetts, conducted his own survey on the vibrations — he found that 68 per cent of people surveyed experienced the phantom vibrations — and agrees that they may be caused by the misinterpretation of sensory signals in our brain, the DailyMail reports.

"In order to deal with an overwhelming amount of sensory input the brain applies filters or schema based on what it expects to find, a process known as hypothesis guided search," he says.

How often do you experience phantom vibrations?

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