The human brain likes to stay busy, it will often fill in sensations and perceptions that “aren’t real.”
This might be normal but it still feels weird.
USA TODAY’s Angela Haupt writes
Some call it “phantom vibration syndrome.” Others prefer “vibranxiety” — the feeling when you answer your vibrating cellphone, only to find it never vibrated at all.
“It started happening about three years ago, when I first got a cellphone,” says Canadian Steven Garrity, 28, of Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island. “I’d be sitting on the couch and feel my phone start to vibrate, so I’d reach down and pull it out of my pocket. But the only thing ringing was my thigh.”
Though no known studies have analyzed what may cause spontaneous buzzing, anecdotes such as Garrity’s ring true with the public.
Spurred by curiosity, Garrity, a Web developer, described the recurring false alarms on his blog. The response was not imaginary: More than 30 cellphone users reported that they, too, experienced phantom vibrations.
“I ended up hearing from a lot of people who said, ‘Hey, the exact same thing happens to me,’ ” Garrity says. “And it was somewhat comforting, because it made me think I wasn’t insane, after all.”
Some who experienced recurring phantom vibrations wondered whether the phenomenon had physical roots: Was it caused by nerve damage or muscle memory?
But experts say the false alarms simply demonstrate how easily habits are developed.
Psychologically, the key to deciphering phantom vibrations is “hypothesis-guided search,” a theory that describes the selective monitoring of physical sensations, says Jeffrey Janata, director of the behavioral medicine program at University Hospitals in Cleveland. It suggests that when cellphone users are alert to vibrations, they are likely to experience sporadic false alarms, he says.
“You come armed with this template that leads you to be attentive to sensations that represent a cellphone vibrating,” Janata says. “And it leads you to over-incorporate non-vibratory sensations and attribute them to the idea that you’re receiving a phone call.”
Just in case you were thinking you were alone, Vibranxiety has a Facebook Fan page with more than 500 fans.