Lately, I’ve found myself doing something I used to make fun of my mother for: holding my purse up to my face to hear if the phone inside is vibrating. Men aren’t immune to this embarrassment either, many a back pocket pat down has been observed when a guy thinks his phone is ringing. This is called “phantom vibration syndrome” or vibranxiety. The phenomenon occurs when one feels the familiar vibrating of a phone even though no actual alert, notification or call has happened.
Phantom vibrations happen so frequently and to so many people that researchers from Baystate Medical Center in Massachusetts conducted a study to find out why. The study described the imagined ring as a “hallucination” that 68 percent of the medical center’s staff had experienced. Eighty-seven percent of those people felt the vibrations weekly, 13 percent daily. Michael Rothberg conducted the study and said that his team's hypothesis was based on the process the brain goes through to deal with the vast amount of sensory input it receives on a daily basis. A smartphone user’s brain is so attentive to vibrations, that it anticipates them, creating a false vibration when any stimulus is experienced.
Hypotheses vary from different institutions as to why this happens. It could be because cell phones produce electrical signals that transmit the feeling of vibration directly to a person's nerves or simply because of the mental anticipation of alerts. No research or study has pinned down the exact cause, but they all seem to agree that “phantom ringing” isn’t dangerous, just annoying.
The question is, Can we stop it? According to the Baystate study, 39 percent of the test subjects were able to stop the vibrations by taking their device off of vibrate mode and just using an audible ringer or changing where they kept the phone. Another option? Trust your ears and just step away from the phone until it rings or beeps for real.
Credit: ballyscanlon / Getty Images