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Phantom phone vibrations: so common they've changed our brains.
Phantom Vibration Syndrome: That phenomenon where you think your phone is vibrating when it's not. iStockphoto.com hide caption
Phantom Vibration Syndrome: That phenomenon where you think your phone is vibrating when it's not.
Phantom vibration — that phenomenon where you think your phone is vibrating but it's not — has been around only since the mobile age. And five years ago, when its wider existence became recognized, news organizations, including ours, covered the "syndrome" as a sign of the digital encroachment in our lives. Today, it's so common that researchers have devoted studies to it.
For Valerie Kusler, who works on a 2,200-acre cattle ranch, the sensation is complicated by the cows. "The cows' moo is very muffled, it kinda sounds like ... errrrrr," she says. "So that's very similar to what my phone sounds like when it vibrates on my desk or in my purse."
If you heard the comparison, you could understand how she gets confused. "Definitely other people have experienced it, too," Kusler says.
Other people may not confuse cows for their phones, but research shows phantom vibration syndrome, or its other nicknames — like hypovibochondria or ring-xiety — are a near-universal experience for people with smartphones.
Nearly 90 percent of college undergrads in a 2012 study said they felt phantom vibrations. The number was just as high for a survey of hospital workers , who reported feeling phantom vibrations on either a weekly or monthly basis.
"Something in your brain is being triggered that's different than what was triggered just a few short years ago," says Dr. Larry Rosen, a research psychologist who studies how technology affects our minds.
"If you'd ask me 10 years ago, or maybe even five years ago if I felt an itch beneath where my pocket of my jeans were, and asked me what I would do, I'd reach down and scratch it because it was probably a little itch caused by the neurons firing," he says.
Now, of course, the tingle triggers him to reach for his phone. Rosen says it's an example of how our devices are changing how our brains process information.
"We're seeing a lot of what looks like compulsive behavior, obsessive behavior. People who are constantly picking up their phone look like they have an obsession. They don't look much different from someone who's constantly washing their hands. I'm not saying that it is an obsession, but I'm saying that it could turn into one, very easily," Rosen says. While 9 out of 10 participants in the study of college students said the vibration feeling bothered them only a little or not at all, Rosen still recommends backing away from our phones every once in a while to keep our anxiety levels down.
"One of the things I'm really adamant about in spite of being very pro-technology, is just weaning ourselves off of the technology for short periods," Rosen says. "And by short periods, I mean, maybe just 30 minutes or an hour."
That kind of mindfulness is something the Tennessee-based Kusler says she's working on.
"That is a personal goal of mine," she says, "to try and have a better boundary between my life and my phone."
But as long as muffled moos are part of her workday, she has a better excuse than the rest of us for feeling those phantom vibrations.
To revist this article, visit My Profile, then View saved stories .
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What's Up With That? Phantom Cellphone Vibrations
It happens to me maybe once or twice a month. Just the other morning I was in the elevator with my bike, riding up to our third-floor office. I felt a vibration in my pocket and reached for my phone. It wasn't there. It was in my messenger bag, I quickly remembered as I tried to act casual.
I'm not alone in this experience. A handful of studies in recent years have examined the prevalence of phantom cellphone vibrations, and they've come up with impressive numbers, from 68 percent of the medical staff at a Massachusetts hospital to 89 percent of undergraduates at a midwestern university, to more than 90 percent of Taiwanese doctors-in-training in the middle of their internships.
"Phantom vibrations are this unusual curiosity that speaks to our connection with our phones," said David Laramie, a clinical psychologist in Beverly Hills who did his doctoral thesis on people's relationships with their mobile phones. Laramie's thesis, published in 2007, was the first study to examine the prevalence of phantom vibrations and phantom ringing. Two-thirds of the people he surveyed had experienced one or the other. "It's part of the modern landscape and our relationship with technology," he said.
In 2012, the Macquarie Dictionary, the authoritative source of Australian English, chose "phantom vibration syndrome" as its " Word of the Year ." (In what presumably was a coincidence, the readers choice award that year went to "First World problem.")
OK, so it's not among the most pressing issues of our day (indeed, the vast majority of people surveyed describe the sensation as not at all bothersome at all, or only a little bit bothersome). But it's an intriguing phenomenon. Healthy people don't often hallucinate. But lots of healthy people experience this particular hallucination. What could be causing it?
Hallucination may not be the most appropriate term, according to Laramie. "You're misinterpreting something, but there is this external cue. You're not totally making it up." A compelling alternative, he suggests, is pareidolia. "That's the phenomenon where you see a face in the clouds or hear 'Paul is dead' when you listen to the Beatles backwards." (Or see the Virgin Mary on a grilled cheese sandwich ). Essentially, it's your brain getting a little bit carried away with its normally very useful talent for finding patterns in the world around you.
Laramie was inspired to study phantom phone phenomena by his own experience with phantom ringing. "Back then I had a certain ring that involved a pitch that was akin to sounds I bumped into in my life all the time," he said. When he changed his ringtone, the phantom ringing stopped.
In his thesis research, he found the two biggest predictors of phantom vibrations and ringing were age (young people experienced them more) and the extent to which people relied on their phone to regulate their emotional state—checking their phone when they wanted to calm down, for example, or get an emotional boost. "My hunch is at this point it's a generational thing," Laramie said. Twenty- and thirty-somethings who grew up with cellphones and have them ingrained in their daily lives probably experience the effect more than older people or technophobes, he says.
Lily Hay Newman
For a more mechanistic explanation, I called Sliman Bensmaia, a neuroscientist at the University of Chicago who studies the sense of touch. He was familiar with phantom vibrations, but says he didn't realize how common they are. "I had no idea this is a thing," he said. "But it's happened to me on a few occasions, to the extent that I reached for my phone and was surprised it wasn't there."
There are two types of receptors in the skin that detect vibrations: Meissner's corpuscles, which specialize in slow vibrations, and Pacinian corpuscles, which specialize in higher-frequency vibrations. Most cellphones vibrate at between 130 and 180 hertz, which falls in between the sweet spots of the two types of receptors. Those vibrations probably activate both types of receptors, but probably activate the Pacinian corpuscles more, Bensmaia says.
Like Laramie, Bensmaia thinks phantom vibrations are a result of the brain's penchant for filling in the gaps to find patterns. A visual equivalent, he suggests, is seeing the outlines of furniture when you walk through your house in near-total darkness, or seeing the image of a Dalmatian in a field of black and white dots (it's hard to see at first, but once you detect the pattern it's almost impossible not to see it).
"What happens, I think, is that because your clothes are rubbing against your skin, you cause activity in the same receptors, and that activity is just similar enough to the activity caused by a vibrating phone that it triggers the learned association and the perception of a vibrating phone," he said. It’s not clear exactly where in the brain that occurs, Bensmaia says, but it probably involves the primary somatosensory cortex and other higher-level areas that process the sense of touch.
If that explanation is right, you should only experience phantom vibrations where you commonly keep your phone, and probably not when you're naked. Laramie says he's had one or two people tell him they often experience phantom vibrations when they wear corduroy pants, which would seem to fit well with the pattern completion hypothesis, especially if the ridges slide across the skin at a frequency that approximates that of a vibrating cellphone. (It's too hot in California to wear corduroys right now, but I pulled out a pair and did a quick calculation: at 14 ridges per inch, if an inch of fabric slid across the skin in a tenth of a second, say as you took a step, that would get you to 140 hertz, which is in the ballpark).
Now, if you happen to be one of the 5 to 10 percent of people who find phantom vibrations bothersome, it should be easy to reduce or eliminate them. If you stop using vibration mode or keep your phone in another place, your brain should soon learn to stop monitoring your thigh for vibrations. And whatever you do, don't wear cords.
Phantom Pocket Vibration Syndrome
What does it tell us about our obsession with technology.
Posted May 7, 2013 | Reviewed by Davia Sills
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Have you had this experience? If you keep your phone in your pocket, you sometimes (maybe even often) feel a vibration in the skin adjacent to your pocket and pull out your mobile phone, assuming it is a text or some sort of notification, only to discover that it was a phantom vibration. Or, if you keep your phone in a purse or satchel, you imagine that you heard it vibrating, or even ringing, only to discover that it was a false alarm.
According to Dr. Michelle Drouin, a professor at Indiana University-Purdue University in Fort Wayne, Indiana, 89 percent of the undergraduates in her study had experienced these phantom vibrations about every two weeks on average, although only one in 11 classified them as “bothersome.” Those who reacted more emotionally to text messages and were more dependent on text messaging were more bothered by them.
If they were not bothersome, then why would anyone worry about them?
The issue is not whether we are consciously bothered by a phantom vibration, but rather, I believe, if our brains are unconsciously bothered. I am not a neuroscientist (although I am embarking on research paradigm that assesses prefrontal cortex activity, so perhaps in the future I may classify myself as a “pseudo” neuroscientist), but I do read a lot of neuroscience research, and what strikes me is that much of what appears to be happening in our outward behavior can be traced to neurotransmitters in our brain.
For example, for decades now psychiatrists have been prescribing a class of psychotropic medications called SSRIs , or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, whose sole purpose is to maintain a high level of a neurotransmitter called serotonin in the brain with the result (hopefully) being increased positive affect or, perhaps, reduced feelings of depression . Whether you agree with the actual impact of SSRIs is irrelevant. Just the fact that psychiatrists prescribe them to manipulate the amount of a neurotransmitter means that they are part of a paradigm that deals with brain chemistry.
I talked about phantom vibrations in my book, iDisorder , and in our research, we now always ask our participants about how often they check in with their devices or websites and their perceived anxiety about not being able to check-in as often as they would like. The table and figure below, taken from a recent article entitled, “Is Facebook Creating ‘iDisorders’? The Link Between Clinical Symptoms of Psychiatric Disorders and Technology Use, Attitudes, and Anxiety,” published in Computers in Human Behavior by my colleagues and I, plus data from some yet-unpublished additional research, provides a glimpse into why so many younger people—and some older people, too—are feeling these phantom vibrations.
The table below shows how often members of four generations of Americans—the iGeneration (born in the 1990s), Net Generation (born in the 1980s), Generation X (born between 1965 and 1979), and Baby Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964)—check-in with various technologies every 15 minutes or less. As you can see, two out of three members of the two youngest generations are constantly checking in with their text messages (and thus, their smartphones), and one in three are checking their cell phone calls and social media equally often. These estimates may even be a bit low, according to a recent Nokia study , which found that the average mobile phone user checks their phone every 6.5 minutes during the day or 150 times during their waking hours.
The figure below shows the percentages of each generation who get moderately-to-highly anxious if they can’t check in as often as they would like . It is clear that half of the two younger generations are anxious if they can’t check those vibrating text messages, and many even get anxious if they can’t check in with their phone calls or social media. It appears, from the tall yellow bar at the far right, that Baby Boomers like myself only get anxious if we can’t check in with our voicemail. In addition, that same study found that those who were more anxious about not being able to check in with Facebook and/or text messages showed more symptoms of major depression, dysthymia, mania , antisocial personality disorder , narcissism , compulsive personality disorder, and paranoid personality disorder.
So, it is clear to me that while phantom vibrations may not be overtly bothersome—after all, how long does it take to check your phone?—they are potentially increasing the flow of neurotransmitters, such as norepinephrine, dopamine , epinephrine, and corticotropin-releasing hormones , and decreasing the flow of serotonin and gamma-aminobutyric acid.
Although our lab does not have the ability to measure the release or suppression of neurotransmitters, my colleague, Dr. Nancy Cheever, recently completed a study that sheds some light on what may be going on. Dr. Cheever recruited 163 college students who were told to report to a large room. Half were directed randomly through one door and told to put their books, phones, and anything else they had with them away under the desks and tables, while the other half were told to relinquish their phones and stow their books and other materials. All students were then told they were to do nothing but wait for further instructions.
Every 20 minutes, for an hour, each participant completed the state portion of the State-Trait Anxiety Scale. As you can see from the figure below, the control group, the ones who were allowed to keep but not use their phones, did show a slight increase in anxiety from the first testing (20 minutes into the session), but their anxiety appeared to level off and not increase between the second and third measurement points. The group that had their smartphones taken away showed a more drastic increase both between the first two measurements and the second and third measurements.
An even more interesting result was discovered when the participants were separated, based on their self-reported use, into heavy and light smartphone users. The next graph shows the increase in anxiety for these two groups separated by those who had their phones taken away (white bars) and those who were allowed to keep but not look at their phones (green bars). As you can see, it is those heavy smartphone users who showed the greatest increase in anxiety across the 60 minutes.
Recently I wrote a blog post on a phenomenon called FOMO or Fear of Missing Out . I think that these two phenomena, FOMO and phantom vibration syndrome, both capture the same prevailing issue. We are now so primed with anxiety about our electronic world (and particularly that which involves communicating, such as text messages and social media) that we misinterpret a simple signal from our neurons located below our pocket as an incoming message, rather than an itch that needs to be scratched. As we are finding out, it really seems to be all about the anxiety that builds up when we are not allowed to check in with our social media, which young people appear to check extremely often.
In a recent interview for Computerworld, I was asked, “Talk about the phantom vibration syndrome, where it feels as if the cell phone is vibrating, but it isn’t. Why does this happen?”
My response sums up what I think is happening to young people and really to anyone who is constantly checking in with their technologies all day long:
Our body is always in waiting to anticipate any kind of technological interaction, which usually comes from a smartphone. With that anticipatory anxiety, if we get any neurological stimulation, our pants rubbing against our leg, for example, you might interpret that through the veil of anxiety, as, 'Oh, my phone is vibrating.'”
If you believe, as I believe, that anxiety-related neurotransmitters are making us interpret random neurological signals as potential cell phone transmissions, then we must start taking steps to retrain ourselves and reduce these anxiety reactions. They are not good for us and will end up potentially keeping us so keyed up that we will not be able to focus or even rest.
The last chapter of my iDisorder book takes the approach that we must learn from neuroscience research what calms our brains. Some of the suggestions include the following, which each need to be done for 10 minutes every couple of hours:
- Take a short walk in nature or just go outside.
- Do a short mindful meditation session.
- Listen to music.
- Practice a foreign language.
- Read a joke book.
- Talk to someone in person or on the phone.
Actually, you probably already know what it takes to calm your brain. About every 90 minutes to two hours, do something for 10 minutes away from technology, and your anxiety levels should decrease. Another hint is to only access your electronic communications websites (e-mail, texts, social media) on a schedule, say every 15 minutes, and then turn them off during the downtimes.
Unless it’s an emergency, nobody will freak out if you don't get back to him or her within 15 minutes. If you are concerned about missing a “real” emergency from someone, arrange a special communication channel for that person and leave that one active while silencing all the others.
Larry Rosen, Ph.D. , is a professor of psychology at California State University, Dominguez Hills and the author of Rewired .
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Phantom vibration syndrome
Author(s): Camran Yasin Miah, University of Manchester Medical School, United Kingdom. Copy edited by Gus Mitchell. August 2022.
What is phantom vibration syndrome ?
Phantom vibration syndrome (PVS) refers to the false perception that one’s mobile phone or other technological device is vibrating when it is not.
Most often associated with excessive mobile phone use, it has been described as a tactile hallucination as the brain perceives the vibration that is not present. This pseudo-sensation can lead to psycho-social symptoms in some cases, however this area is understudied.
Who gets phantom vibration syndrome?
No specific population groups have been identified as having a greater prevalence of PVS. Anyone who owns a mobile phone or other technological vibrating device could theoretically develop PVS, with overuse carrying greater risk.
What causes phantom vibration syndrome?
The aetiology of PVS is unknown and requires further investigation. It has been hypothesised as a misinterpretation by the cerebral cortex due to the large number of sensory stimuli continuously received by the brain. As the user anticipates a vibratory notification, stimuli such as muscle contractions are possibly misconstrued as a vibration sensation.
Devices that cause phantom vibration syndrome
A smartphone with a vibration notification function
A video game controller with a vibration function
What are the clinical features of phantom vibration syndrome?
No cutaneous features of PVS have been identified in the research. However, PVS has been linked to some psycho-social symptoms such as:
- Psychological stress
- Emotional disturbance.
What are the complications of phantom vibration syndrome?
- Worsening mental health.
How is phantom vibration syndrome diagnosed?
PVS can be diagnosed by a thorough clinical history.
What is the treatment of phantom vibration syndrome?
- Reducing time spent on mobile phone
- Carrying the device in a different pocket
- Switching the vibration capability off
What is the outcome for phantom vibration syndrome?
More research must be done on the outcomes of phantom vibration syndrome. Some studies suggest worsening of mental health related to anxiety and hypervigilance could possibly deteriorate into serious psychiatric issues if left unmanaged.
- Deb A. (2015). Phantom vibration and phantom ringing among mobile phone users: A systematic review of literature. Asia-Pacific Psychiatry, 7(3), 231-239. Journal
- Qureshi M, et al. Prevalence of phantom vibration syndrome and phantom ringing syndrome (Ringxiety): Risk of sleep disorders and infertility among medical students. 2014;Int J, 2, 688–93. Journal
- Pareek S. Phantom vibration syndrome: An emerging phenomenon. Asian Journal of Nursing Education and Research, 7(4), 596–7. Journal
- Rothberg MB, et al. Phantom vibration syndrome among medical staff: a cross sectional survey. BMJ 2010; 341: c6914. doi:10.1136/bmj.c6914. Journal
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Why Do People Feel Phantom Cellphone Vibrations?
By matt soniak | jun 19, 2012.
Let’s picture a typical moment in my day: I’m minding my own business, with my iPhone in my back pocket. Suddenly, my left cheek is shaking as the phone vibrates and does the bzzt, bzzt, bzzt-ing dance of its people on my backside. I check the phone, and there’s nothing. No call. No text. No email. No one has moved in Words With Friends or liked my pictures on Instagram. Nothing that would have made the phone vibrate, but I swear I felt it.
I don’t suffer these mysterious vibrations alone. In one study into the phenomenon - variously dubbed “phantom ringing,” “phantom vibration syndrome” and vibranxiety - phantom phone vibrations were experienced by 68% of the people surveyed, with 87% of those feeling them weekly, and 13% daily.
What is it that plagues our pockets?
The phantom vibrations have only recently gotten the attention of scientists, and while they’ve offered up opinions and hypotheses, peer-reviewed research on the ghostly buzzes is scarce.
Alex Blaszczynski, chairman of the School of Psychology at the University of Sydney, thinks the vibrating sensation is triggered by electrical activity. "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,” he told the Sydney Morning Herald , with the caveat that he hasn’t conducted any studies on the vibrations. If he’s right, it would mean vibes are not phantom, but a real sensation - a physical stimulation similar to what happens when your phone is near a speaker and you hear that weird buzzing sound as it does a " hand shake " with a cell tower and gives off some electromagnetic interference.
Larry Rosen, a professor of psychology at California State University offers a different idea in his book, iDisorder . He says that since we’re almost always anticipating some sort of technological interaction, especially with our smartphones, we inevitably interpret some unrelated stimuli, like our pants rubbing against our leg or a chair dragging against the floor, as a phone call.
The only published study on phantom vibrations that we were able to find focused on gauging vibranxiety’s prevalence, and didn’t examine the cause. But the researchers offered an educated guess similar to Rosen’s. Michael Rothberg, a clinician investigator at Baystate Medical Center in Springfield, Massachusetts, who conducted the survey mentioned earlier, says that vibranxiety might be caused by the misinterpretation of sensory signals in our brain.
“In order to deal with an overwhelming amount of sensory input,” Rothberg and his team say in their study, “the brain applies filters or schema based on what it expects to find, a process known as hypothesis guided search.” With the phantom vibrations, the brain sometimes misinterprets sensory input according to the preconceived hypothesis that a vibrating sensation will be coming from the phone. In other words, it seems smartphone users are just so primed for, and attentive to, the sensation of their phone going off that they simply experience the occasional false alarm.
Make It Stop!
Phantom vibrations don’t appear to cause any harm, but if the mild annoyance is too much for you, they can be stopped. Thirty-nine percent of the people in Rothberg’s survey - all medical staff who had a phone or pager on them all day - were able to stop the vibrations either by taking the device off vibrate mode and using the audible ringer, changing the location of the device on their person, or using a different device (success rates were 75%, 63% and 50%, respectively).
The Phone That Wasn't There: 11 Things You Need to Know About Phantom Vibrations
No, "Phantom Vibrations" are not a terrible "Beach Boys Meet the Munsters Cover Tribute Band."
You're sitting at work. Your phone vibrates in your pocket. As you reach for it, you look up... and see your phone, sitting on the table.
You just experienced a phantom vibration.
A new study was released this week on the phenomenon. Led by IU-PU Fort Wayne's Michelle Drouin, it was published in the journal of Computers in Human Behavior. It's only the third study on this new phenomenon of the mobile age, so we can fairly say that these are the eleven things we know about phantom vibrations:
1. Many, many people experience phantom vibrations. 89 percent of the undergrad participants in this current study had felt phantom vibrations. In the two other studies on this in the literature -- a 2007 doctoral thesis, which surveyed the general population, and a 2010 survey of staff at a Massachusetts hospital -- majorities of participants experienced phantom vibrations.
2. They happen pretty often. The survey of undergrads and medical professionals agree: about ten percent experience phantom vibrations every day. 88 percent of the doctors, specifically, felt vibrations between a weekly and monthly basis.
3. If you use your phone more, you're more likely to feel phantom vibrations. The 2007 graduate study found that people who heard phantom rings roughly used twice as many minutes and sent five times as many texts as those who didn't.
4. No one's really bothered by them. 91 percent of the kids in this new study said the vibrations bothered them "a little" to "not at all." 93 percent of the hospital workers felt similarly, reporting themselves "slightly" to "not at all" bothered. But this is where age differences start kicking in, because:
5. Among those surveyed, working adults try to end the vibrations much more often than undergrads. More than eighty percent of the undergrads made no attempt to stop phantom vibrations. This doesn't match the hospital workers's number at all: almost two-thirds of them tried to get the vibrations to stop (and a majority of that set succeeded, though the sample gets so small lessons become unclear).
7. If you react strongly and emotionally to texts, you're more likely to experience phantom vibrations. Droulin's study found that a strong emotional reaction predicted how bothersome one finds phantom vibrations. Emotional reactions to texts have been researched before: in a 2008 study of Japanese high school students, it was found to be a key factor in text message dependence.
8. And that strong emotional reaction means personality traits given to emotional reactions correlate with increased phantom vibrations. People who react more emotionally to social stimuli of any type will react more emotionally to social texts. And people who react more emotionally to social stimuli can be sorted into two large groups (with the usual attached caveats about the usefulness of psychological groups): extroverts and neurotics. But they can be sorted into these two huge groups for two totally different reasons.
Extroverts have many friends and work hard to stay in touch with them. Social information carries more import for them because they care deeply about it, they're directed to it, and their regular emotional reaction to social stimuli carries over into texts. And since a strong emotional reaction to texts predicts increased phantom vibrations, it makes sense -- and indeed, it correlates -- that extroverts experience more phantom vibrations.
But what correlates stronger, across the board, are neurotic traits. Neurotics fret about their social relationships, they worry about texts and fear each might signal social doom. Droulin's study found that neurotic traits strongly correlated -- even more strongly than extroversion -- with an emotional reaction to texts.
9. But you can luck into fewer phantom vibrations. In this 2012 study, conscientious undergrads, capable of greater focus, reported fewer text messages than the rest of the undergrad population.
10. We don't have great ways to study this yet. The three main studies all depend on people self-reporting their own phantom vibrations when they're taking surveys. In all three cases, the researchers just gave surveys to people -- 320 in the 2007 doctoral study, 169 in the medical survey, and 290 in this newest study -- and asked them to remember. "[A]t present," write the new study's authors, "the technology does not exist to measure individuals' perceptions of phantom vibrations in 'real time.'" They hope to apply brain scanning techniques in the future, and also that better technology will come along which will make phantom vibration reporting possible -- perhaps this technology will rely on mobile technology itself.
11. Scientists don't seem to know whether this is a disease. The 2010 survey goes out of its way to declare "phantom text syndrome" a "Holy Roman Empire" involving neither phantoms nor syndromes. The newer study, though, classifies the perception of a vibration without the sensation of it a hallucination , and undertones, "typically hallucinations are associated with pathology." The study's authors wonder aloud if the doctors and nurses at the hospital were more eager to train themselves out of phantom vibrations because they worried about disease and abnormal symptoms, or because they were just old. And throughout the rest of literature, scientists have protested recently that aural hallucinations aren't a big deal, that they're not associated with a disease. The 2012 survey's authors compare phantom vibrations with hearing your name called when it wasn't.
Brains hiccup, they parse sense wrong, and the result is a phantom vibration. Write the authors:
Presumably, if individuals considered these imagined vibrations 'pathological tactile hallucinations,' they would feel bothered that they had them. Instead, it is likely that individuals consider these phantom vibrations a normal part of the human-mobile phone interactive experience.
What is Phantom Vibration Syndrome?
Introducing a New Video Series From Georgia Tech
What is phantom vibration syndrome? If black holes are invisible and emit no light, how can scientists see and study them? You’ve heard of science fiction, but what about “skiffy” (spoiler alert: flying sharks!)?
These are among the questions and topics Georgia Tech researchers will answer and address in the Institute’s new, bi-monthly video series: TECH+knowledge+Y.
Kicking off the series, Robert Rosenberger , assistant professor of Philosophy in the School of Public Policy , discusses the “ phantom vibration syndrome .” The phantom phone vibration syndrome occurs when a person thinks his or her phone is ringing or vibrating from a text message when it actually is not. As a society increasingly dependent on mobile devices, the phantom vibrate easily becomes a phenomenon of worry for users.
Those among the worriers fear that the dependency on technology involves rewiring the brain and altering human behavior. Rosenberger says otherwise.
“There are ways to talk about technology without reducing everything to brain rewiring talk,” he says. “Yes, your brain’s involved, but your brain’s involved in everything. There's a weird scientific legitimacy that comes from saying it's changing your brain, as opposed to just claiming it’s changing your behavior or society. If I'm teaching you to drive, we wouldn't talk about brains. I would just say, OK, take hold of the steering wheel.”
He concludes that the tendency to check phones arises from basic human nature to obsess. For instance, constantly checking the driveway to see if a guest has arrived or a commuter straining to hear the arrival of a subway.
What is Phantom Vibration Syndrome?
While staying connected with friends and family is healthy, many people take social connectivity to an extreme. This has lead to Canadian social scientists coining the term “hyperconnectivity.” This refers to humans utilizing multiple modalities of communication such as: email, instant messaging, face-to-face communication, Facebook, texting, and cell phones.
It is estimated that for every 100 people in the world, 96 of those individuals own cell phones. In some countries, it’s the norm for people to own and use multiple cell phones. While the number of cell phones in the world doesn’t exceed the total Earth’s population, it’s getting close; there are nearly 7 billion people on Earth, and nearly 6.8 billion cell phones.
Technology, regular cell phone usage, and constant access have rewired the brains of most. Nearly everyone is constantly checking their phone for the latest Facebook update, text message, app update, or even just browsing the web for news. Most people have inadvertently become dependent upon cell phones to navigate the world.
The increasing usage of cell phones has lead some individuals to experience a phenomenon known as “phantom vibration syndrome.” The syndrome known as “phantom vibration” is characterized by an individual falsely perceiving that their cell phone is either vibrating or ringing at a time when it clearly isn’t . Those that experience phantom vibration syndrome may be engaging in an activity away from their cell phone, yet believe that it’s ringing.
In other cases people may believe that their cell phone is vibrating in their pocket, when it isn’t. The phone may be completely off or display no activity, yet the person perceiving the vibration believes with full conviction that they felt their phone vibrating. It’s almost as if their mind (and phone) are playing tricks on them.
The term is believed to have originated from the “Dilbert” comic strip (1996) in which “phantom pager syndrome” was referenced. This condition didn’t gain much attention in the media until the early 2000s. Those that have written about the condition have questioned as to whether it’s a result of cumulative nerve damage, unfavorable brain chemistry alterations, or simply a harmless sign of technology dependence.
It is likely that those exposed to sensitive tones or vibrations on a consistent basis, regardless of the source, may have experienced variations of this condition long before cell phones. Many people have likely experienced this same condition with standardized landline phones and certain electronic devices.
Various related terms for this condition include:
- Ringxiety : Is a term representing anxiety associated to the ringing (or lack thereof) of a cell phone.
- Hypovibochondria : This is a blended term combining the psychological condition of hypochondria and vibration (vibro).
- Fauxcellarm : This creative term combining “faux” (fake) and “cell” (for cell phone) with the pronunciation similar to that of “false alarm.”
What causes phantom vibration syndrome?
There are numerous hypotheses regarding the specific cause of phantom vibration syndrome. Many believe that the brain becomes so conditioned to hearing frequent rings or vibrations, that the same neural pathways activated when it actually is ringing falsely burst with activity even when it isn’t. Individuals with phantom vibration syndrome are so accustomed to hearing their phone vibrate or ring, that their brain expects more.
Factors influencing phantom vibration syndrome…
In part there are likely several factors that play a role in influencing this phenomenon known as “phantom vibration.” These factors include: average number of vibrations/rings, volume, sound frequency, time span over which a person has been conditioned, as well as individual brain chemistry.
1. Avg. daily vibrations/rings
If your phone doesn’t ring or vibrate, your brain isn’t going to expect it to ring or vibrate. While this isn’t confirmed, it would make sense that the greater number of daily vibrations and/or rings a person is exposed to, the more likely they are going to perceive phantom vibrations. Just think about it, playing a song on repeat for hours will probably leave the song stuck in your head.
It may be difficult for you to get the song out of your head because your brain had begun to expect the song. When the song stops, the neural loop keeps firing, and you keep hearing it in a slightly different way. Even though the reverberations aren’t hitting your ear drum, your brain is still firing. Those with phones that are frequently ringing (from calls) or vibrating (from notifications) are more likely to experience this phenomenon.
2. Cumulative cell phone usage
It should also be speculated that the number of years over which a person consistently uses their phone with ringing and/or vibrations may also play influence this condition. In previous generations, this was highly unlikely to occur due to the fact that most people didn’t have cell phones, and those that did, rarely used them. The newer generations (e.g. “Y” and “Z”) don’t even know what it’s like to function without them. Using cell phones over a longer term may increase the likelihood that you’ll experience phantom rings.
3. Brain chemistry
It is important to consider the individual in regards to experiencing phantom vibes or rings. Genetics, neural activation, and neurotransmitters are all likely to increase a person’s susceptibility to experiencing this phenomenon. Some experts believe that the condition is related to psychological anxiety and that those with an anxious predisposition may be more likely to experience the phantom vibes.
Some people have used their cell phones for decades and haven’t experienced a phantom vibration, yet others who have only used their phones for a short-term have experienced these. This is why individual neurochemistry is likely among the most influential factors. While you probably won’t experience this phenomenon without owning a cell phone, it may be more likely in certain individuals over others due to brain chemistry.
4. Vibration or Sound Frequency
It is known that humans have sensitivities to certain sound frequencies. Most cell phones elicit tones for rings or vibrations within the range of 1000 Hz to 6000 Hz – the exact frequencies that tend to shock the auditory system. When we blast our cell phone ringers and vibrations, get frequent notifications or calls, and this occurs often – we are essentially jolting our auditory cortex to sensitive frequencies.
It is known that the frequencies within this range tend to be difficult to pinpoint during spatial navigation. This is why when many people hear a cell phone ringing or vibrating, they have a tough time pinpointing its specific location. Although being unable to pinpoint the location isn’t that big of a deal, the sensitivity to these frequencies may leave a conditioned neural imprint – priming our brains for a sensitive sound.
5. Skin receptors
A majority of cell phones are thought to vibrate between the frequencies of 130 Hz and 180 Hz. Each time your phone vibrates in your pocket, you feel the vibration on your skin, which contains receptors that send your brain signals that there’s an alert on your phone. The particular receptors that process this sensation are referred to as the “Pacinian corpuscles.”
It is these same receptors that become activated when clothes brush up against the skin. When a phone vibrates in your pocket, it is likely that the same skin receptors are activated. Some experts believe that since your phone is vibrating and setting off activity in the same skin receptors as the ones which brushing clothes activate, your brain can wire to falsely perceive a vibrating phone, even when it’s just clothes brushing up against your skin.
In other words, the stimuli of the clothes and phone become intertwined, leaving your brain to (sometimes) associate one with both. This likely occurs within the primary somatosenxory cortex, paired with areas which process tactile sensations (for false pocket vibrations).
When does the phantom ringing or vibrating occur?
There’s no particular time when the phantom ringing or vibrating is most likely to occur. It is likely subject to significant individual variation. Some have experienced the phantom ringing when watching TV or while doing something relaxing like taking a shower. It is speculated that after using the cell phone for prolonged periods, when a person attempts to take a break, their brain is so accustomed to hearing the “rings” and/or “vibrations,” that it falsely perceives them – hence their description as phantoms.
Other people may experience them when using a noisy device or in a noisy environment. In this case, the brain may be subconsciously primed to expect a cell phone beep. Although no beep actually occurs, since the neural correlates are primed, they may simply go off in similar regions to when the phone actually beeps. People become so desensitized to their cell phones, that using them frequently on a daily basis trains their brain to expect them.
Think of it like a gun that is loaded (neural pathways are primed after hearing the cell phone) being stored in a car during a bumpy ride. Although nobody is attempting to pull the trigger, you hit a bump in the road (something nudges the primed neural pathways) and boom, the gun goes off (neurons fire so that you hear a vibration or ringing from the phone – even though it’s not coming from the phone.
Yet others that experience the phantom pocket vibrations may be more likely to experience them when they wear certain clothes (e.g. tight pants). If the theory that the skin receptors tie the stimuli of certain clothes, with a vibrating cell phone, it makes sense that tight clothes may trigger the false vibrations because the skin receptors become bombarded with pressure.
How to reduce, prevent, or overcome phantom vibrations or rings
If you want the phantom vibes or rings to stop, it’s common sense what needs to be done: either turn the sound and vibrations off or avoid using your cell phone. In fact, you could even consider doing both – fasting from cell phone usage for some days and the days that you use your cell phone, keep it on silent.
1. Cell phone fast
Clearly this phenomenon never existed in the past because we didn’t have cell phones and those that did, didn’t use them as much. These days nearly everyone and their kids are glued to their cell phones, sometimes unable to interact with society because they are so caught up living in a hyperconnected form of cyberspace on their phone. To avoid, prevent, or overcome the phantom vibes, try scaling back on cell phone usage or “fasting” from your phone.
- Hours per day : For those who want to do the bare minimum, try fasting from your phone for several hours per day and determine whether it reduces the occurrence.
- Entire day : Many people force themselves to go one full day per week without their cell phones. This helps train the brain to become less dependent upon technology and makes it less likely that you’ll experience phantom vibrations.
- Multiple days : For those that are a bit more extreme, you may want to take a multiple day cell phone fast per week. Go for a couple days per week with no phone – it should help reduce the phantom vibrations.
2. Turn off the ringer/vibration
A less extreme approach than giving up your cell phone for hours per day or days per week is to simply turn off your ringer and/or vibration. If your brain isn’t constantly bombarded with rings and vibrations from your cell phone, you’re probably not going to experience phantom vibrations. Many people are so dependent on their phones, that no matter the activity they’re doing, they’ll stop for any alert in the form of a beep, buzz, or ring.
Turning off the ringer and vibration completely is a good strategy. Not only will you reduce the likelihood of phantom vibration syndrome, but you’ll also be able to check for notifications on your own terms. Often times we perceive the ring or vibration as being top-priority like an emergency, despite the fact that they are general notifications.
3. Airplane mode
If your phone is on airplane mode, it’s not going to randomly ring or vibrate. Additionally, having your phone on airplane mode more often may reduce the likelihood that you’ll develop health problems stemming from RF-EMF (radio-frequency electromagnetic field) radiation. There is some evidence that the radiation from cell phones is linked to brain tumors – particularly “glioma.”
While the likelihood that you’ll develop a tumor from cell phones is low, there is a clear association. Airplane mode allows us to have our phone with us in case there’s an emergency and usage is necessary, but doesn’t bombard our brain with constant notifications in the form of sound and vibrations.
4. Reduce the volume
If you don’t want to shut off the ring or vibration, consider turning off one or the other. If you’re having a problem with phantom rings, turn off the ring. If you’re having a problem with vibrations, turn off the vibrations. Those who aren’t willing to turn off the ringer, could compromise by reducing the volume.
Many people have their phones jacked up to the maximum volume, and the frequency of the notification ringer is within the sensitive range. This is like training your brain to perceive cell phone notifications as being more important than anything. Adjust the volume to an appropriate range or consider altering and/or decreasing the style of vibration.
5. Clothing alterations
Some people have reported experiencing phantom pocket vibrations – a specific subtype of phantom vibration syndrome. These individuals often find that when they wear certain clothing, particularly restrictive pants, that they experience an increase in the number of phantom vibes. This may be due to the fact that the brushing of clothes against your skin stimulates the same sensory receptors as the vibrating phone.
Your brain comes to associate the contact of these tighter clothes (typically pants) with the vibrating phone. Even when the phone isn’t vibrating, the restrictive clothing primes the skin receptors, which stimulates a particular neural pathway to elicit the phantom vibration. You may find that adjusting your clothes to looser fitting pants alleviates the problem.
6. Adjust carrying strategies
Another obvious tip for those who experience phantom pocket vibrations is to adjust the carrying strategy. In other words, if you are carrying your phone in your pocket, try carrying it for awhile in your backpack or in your hand. Don’t store your phone in a pocket that allows the vibration to stimulate your skin receptors. If you have other pockets such as in a sweatshirt or jacket, store your phone there and make sure that the phone doesn’t come in contact with the skin.
How common is phantom vibration syndrome?
It appears as though this emerging phenomenon is relatively common, especially among individuals that frequently use their cell phones. Research psychologist Dr. Michelle Drouin discovered that nearly 90% of college undergraduates at IUPU (Indiana University-Purdue University) experienced phantom vibrations about once every couple weeks. It was discovered that most of the students weren’t that upset by them – only about 10% of students thought they were a nuisance.
Have you experienced phantom vibration syndrome?
If you’ve experienced phantom vibrations or rings from your cell phone, feel free to share your experience in the comments section below. Mention whether you found these phantom sensations bothersome and how frequently you’ve experienced them. Also feel free to mention what you believe caused your brain to falsely perceive the ring or vibration, even when it didn’t occur.
While many people have experienced phantom vibrations/rings, most people don’t know that they are relatively common and overall pretty harmless. But they might be a sign that you have become a little too dependent on your cell phone. To decrease the likelihood that you’ll experience these, simply turn off the ring/vibration alerts on your phone, and spend more time away from technology.
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5 thoughts on “what is phantom vibration syndrome”.
I personally experience phantom vibration during any hour of the day. It is normally when I am expecting or hoping for a text message. I have a hypothesis, but let me preface this with stating that I am not any way trained in medicine or psychology. I believe that, in some cases, certain chemicals of pleasure fire in the brain (dopamine I believe) when one receives a text message.
When this person is bored or is wanting a “dopamine-rush,” their brain creates a false vibration in the appropriate spot of the body. I’ve noticed that I feel the vibration where it should be (on my arm if my phone is on the table, stomach if it is in my coat pocket, etc.). But, again, I am in no way qualified to answer this question with any sort of validity. Just thought I’d throw my hat into the ring.
It happens to me & my S/O. It often happened to me at work, standing behind the counter when I didn’t even have my phone in my pocket.
I have been experiencing it lately. Mine is more of the vibration illusion in my pocket. After reading this article, I came to realize that it may be attributed to the tight pants that I’m wearing, combined with the over-all jumpsuit I wear at my work. This combination puts pressure on my upper leg where my phone was always secured. As recommended from this article, I will try to turn-off the Vibration alert and also change the phone location.
For the last two years I have been woken up by a sound similar to a single cell phone vibration. It varies in volume. Could this be phantom vibrations? I recently noticed that when I power off my iPad and iPhone I don’t hear it. When my devices were on in the past, they were in sleep mode, with the volume off and in different rooms.
I experience these phantom vibrations very often. Usually many times a day. I do find them very annoying because it causes me to check my phone for a notification that does not exist. It happens when I have loud music on, when I’m watching a movie, or just simply doing school work.
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Why Do I Think My Phone Is Vibrating When It's Not?
Do you ever feel your phone vibrating in your pocket or purse, only to retrieve it and be met by eerie, black-screened lifelessness? If, like most people, you occasionally experience these "phantom vibrations," it turns out it's because you're a little bit nuts.
Or, scientifically speaking, you're having "sensory hallucinations."
So says Michael Rothberg, a researcher at Baystate Medical Center in Springfield, Mass., who, last year, studied the strange phenomenon among the doctors and other medical staff at Baystate. He discovered that over 70 percent of those polled had experienced a phantom vibration in the past and some of them were spooked by ghost cellphone rings daily.
As Rothberg recently explained on ScienceLine , these hallucinations are, essentially, errors in perception casualties of the brain's struggle to make sense of the constant barrage of data flooding in from the outside world.
"You get a tremendous amount of sensory information that's coming in from your eyes, from your ears, from your skin, and you can't deal with all that information all the time," Rothberg told Rose Eveleth, the host of ScienceLine's podcast. [ How Does Acid Make People Trip? ]
"And so as you get these different types of sensory inputs coming in, and your brain is trying to filter them out and trying to make sense of them, it makes sense of them in terms of what it's used to looking for," he said. "So for people who are getting messages all the time those messages are positive or they're excited to get those messages or they're important so they're worried about missing those messages they're constantly searching for something that might seem like a message coming in."
While hunting-and-gathering in prehistoric times, we would have been on the lookout for snakes, and were probably constantly getting spooked by curvy sticks. Today, most of us are techno-centric , and so our brains misinterpret everything from the rustle of clothing to the growling of a stomach, jumping to the false conclusion that we're getting a call.
There's no need to get freaked out by the fact that you, and roughly 70 percent of the people around you, hallucinate on a regular basis. "Hallucinations sound like mental illness, and this is not mental illness, this is a normal thing that pretty much everybody experiences," Rothberg said.
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Natalie Wolchover was a staff writer for Live Science from 2010 to 2012 and is currently a senior physics writer and editor for Quanta Magazine. She holds a bachelor's degree in physics from Tufts University and has studied physics at the University of California, Berkeley. Along with the staff of Quanta, Wolchover won the 2022 Pulitzer Prize for explanatory writing for her work on the building of the James Webb Space Telescope. Her work has also appeared in the The Best American Science and Nature Writing and The Best Writing on Mathematics, Nature, The New Yorker and Popular Science. She was the 2016 winner of the Evert Clark/Seth Payne Award, an annual prize for young science journalists, as well as the winner of the 2017 Science Communication Award for the American Institute of Physics.
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Why do we feel phantom vibrations from our phones?
By Jeff Wagner
October 30, 2023 / 10:33 PM CDT / CBS Minnesota
MINNEAPOLIS — Several times a day we turn to our phones expecting a notification, but nothing is there.
Maybe you felt it buzz. Maybe you didn't.
Why do we feel phantom vibrations from our phones? It's not all in our heads, but our bodies.
When asked how much she feels a phantom vibration, Paige Dahlberg said "I would say like multiple times a day."
"If it happens three times a day, I'll be like 'What is going on?' and I'll take my [Apple] watch off for a minute," added her friend Lacey Sullivan.
"Some people can feel the vibration when their phone is in their purse. They think they hear or see their phone alert going off when it's not even on their person," said Dr. Michelle Drouin, a psychology professor who has studied this phenomenon at Purdue University Fort Wayne.
"Phantom vibration syndrome is when you think that your phone is making an alert, a vibration, a sound, and you go to check it and actually there wasn't anything. So, what it technically is, is a hallucination," said Dr. Drouin.
There are a couple of reasons people think they feel a vibration, with the first being anticipation. We might be anxious about a potential incoming message, call, or email. "Maybe you're expecting something so you're like thinking it's coming, so then it vibrates," said Dahlberg.
Then, actual physical touch can occur.
"Maybe your pant leg rubbed against you or you bumped into something," said Drouin.
Professor Paul Schrater teaches psychology and computer science at the University of Minnesota. He believes something is happening beneath the surface of our skin.
"For instance, you can have a muscle spasm. Our muscles are always active and when your muscles get active, they're sensed by these sensors within our skin and within our muscles," he said. "The sensors that pick up buzzing are a distinctive category of the sensors in our skin. They don't localize things well and they really don't pick up a lot of details of the stimulation." That means it's easy to mistake the buzz of a muscle twitch as a phone vibration.
But rather than acknowledge the never-ending movements our muscles make, Schrater said we ignore them or associate them with our phones.
"[Phones] are incredibly important to us, addictive you know. But it's also one of the most frequent things in our environment and our brain uses importance and frequency to disambiguate ambiguous signals," he said. There's no denying the attachment people have to their phones and devices in modern society.
"My watch vibrates probably seven to eight times an hour at least. So, if it goes like 30 minutes without vibrating I think that's weird," said Dahlberg.
"It's almost the expectation of our culture that you're going to be responsive 24/7," said Dr. Drouin.
Sullivan said she does not know if the phantom vibrations would stop for people if they simply turned off vibration in their settings.
"I've had [my Apple Watch] on for so long that it would be different to go completely silent or mute," she said.
It's a move Dr. Drouin tried ten years ago, not long after she did her study on phantom vibrations. "I think switching it off vibrate mode is the reason why I haven't had a phantom vibration," she said. "I'm not expecting them and so I'm not looking for them."
In Dr. Drouin's study, the vast majority of her participants said they've experienced phantom vibrations. However, it didn't annoy them. Medical students were found to experience phantom vibrations as well from wearing pagers, Drouin added.
Jeff Wagner joined the WCCO-TV team in November 2016 as a general assignment reporter, and now anchors WCCO's Saturday evening newscasts. Although he's new to Minnesota, he's called the Midwest home his entire life.
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Bad vibrations: Phantom phone alerts linked to cell phone dependency
- Morgan Sherburne
Image credit: Michael P. Kruger
ANN ARBOR—You’ve probably felt or heard it before: a buzz in your pocket or a ding from your purse. You think a message has come to your phone, but when you look, the screen is blank.
Researchers call these “phantom communication experiences,” and University of Michigan Institute for Social Research scientist Daniel Kruger has linked the frequency of feeling these phantom vibrations to a person’s cell phone dependency.
Kruger says his findings, published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior, may add to the body of research used to support the inclusion of mobile phone or technology addiction in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Researchers attempted to add this addiction to the manual in 2013, but failed.
“When people have addictions, there’s a phenomenon in which they are hypersensitive to stimuli associated with a rewarding stimulus,” Kruger said. “This study provides some real insight and maybe some evidence that people can have a real dependency on cell phone use.”
Kruger and student Jaikob Djerf, a participant in the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program, recruited 766 undergraduates, 384 of which were women and 382 men. The study participants first completed the Ten Item Personality Inventory, which assesses personality characteristics—openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and emotional stability or neuroticism.
The students were then asked if they had experienced phantom ringing, vibrations or notifications from their phones. If they answered yes, they recorded how frequently they had experienced the phantom alerts.
The participants also responded to statements from a survey called the Mobile Phone Problem Use Scale, including whether the students used their phones to make themselves feel better, to talk to others when feeling isolated, and if they felt anxious when forced to turn off their phones.
Kruger found that those who scored as more conscientious and emotionally stable had lower phone dependency symptoms. Women also reported higher phone dependency symptoms.
“I think these findings are something that can inform the discussion—and certainly, it pushes in the direction of saying, ‘Hey, whether you want to call it dependency or addiction, it’s real, it’s important, and we should be paying attention to this,” Kruger said.
- Study abstract: Bad vibrations? Cell phone dependency predicts phantom communication experiences
- Daniel Kruger
- U-M Institute for Social Research
- Related news story: Was that my phone?
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- v.40(5); Sep-Oct 2018
Prevalence and Pattern of Phantom Ringing and Phantom Vibration among Medical Interns and their Relationship with Smartphone Use and Perceived Stress
Ajish g. mangot.
Department of Psychiatry, Krishna Institute of Medical Sciences Deemed University, Karad, Satara, Maharashtra, India
Vasantmeghna S. Murthy
Sharad v. kshirsagar, ajay h. deshmukh, dinesh v. tembe, background:.
Phantom sensations like phantom vibration (PV) and phantom ringing (PR)— the sensations of vibration and ringing of the phone when they are not, respectively—are among the latest in the category of “techno-pathology” to receive global attention. This study was conducted with the aim to estimate the prevalence of such sensations among medical interns and their association with perceived stress levels and smartphone usage pattern.
Materials and Methods:
Ninety-three medical interns using smartphone were recruited for the study. Data were collected anonymously using semi-structured questionnaire, perceived stress scale (PSS), and smartphone addiction scale-short version (SAS-SV). Data were analyzed using descriptive statistics, Chi-square test, independent t -test, ANOVA, and Pearson's correlation coefficient.
Fifty-nine percent students had a high level of stress, whereas 40% had problematic smartphone use. Sixty percent students experienced PV, whereas 42% experienced PR and both were significantly associated with higher frequency of phone use and the use of vibration mode. Mean SAS-SV score was significantly lower in students who did not perceive PR/PV, whereas mean PSS score was significantly lower in students who did not perceive PV.
This study confirms findings from other national and international researches about the experience of cell phone phantom sensations and their relationship with the pattern of phone use and stress level. It also brings to light high levels of stress and problematic smartphone use among medical students during the internship.
Necessity is the mother of invention, it is said. Invention, we say, is the mother of modern diseases! This could be true of conditions that are being categorized as “techno-pathology”—disorders resulting from the overuse or misuse of technology.[ 1 ] Phantom sensations like phantom vibration (PV) and phantom ringing (PR)—the sensation of vibration and ringing of the phone when it is not, respectively—are one of the latest in this category to receive global attention. This may be attributed to the rising use of smartphones among people of all ages, especially the youth. The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) recently revealed that until December 2017, 1,167.44 million people in India used mobile phones.[ 2 ] A similar trend has been observed all over the world.[ 3 ] Not surprisingly, problem behaviors associated with mobile phone use have also seen an increasing trend.[ 4 ] Among the disturbances seen are behavioral addictions (mobile phones, Internet, etc.), emotional disturbances reportedly due to excessive smartphone use, and phantom vibration syndrome (PVS).[ 5 , 6 ] PVS, although termed a “syndrome,” is not really a disease or disorder. It is more a “normal phenomenon” with possible misinterpretation of stimuli.[ 6 ] The same holds true for PR.
Rothberg et al . (2010) led one of the earliest studies in this regard.[ 6 ] They evaluated the prevalence of PV among medical personnel. Approximately two thirds of their subjects reported having experienced PV. A large number (93%) of subjects found this to be “slightly” or “not at all” bothersome. With regard to the frequency of the experience, approximately 88% of the subjects reported it “weekly” or “monthly.” In another, prospective, study of 74 medical interns, it was found that subjects with severe PV/PR had higher subjective somatic anxiety and somatic depressive scores at any given time during their internship.[ 7 ] This leads us to believe that stress must have some role to play in the phenomenon of phantom sensations. There is also a possibility that the phenomena may be attributable to a prodrome of clinical burnout syndrome. Chen et al . (2014) did not find any association of PV/PR with anxiety or depression but found that work-related burnout was significantly associated with phantom sensations.[ 8 ] This makes PV/PR a potential predictor of occupational burnout. In India, Goyal (2015) studied PV and PR among 300 postgraduate students and found that 74% of students had experienced both phenomena, whereas 17% experienced PV exclusively and 4% experienced PR exclusively.[ 9 ]
Across the globe, internship during medical studies has been found to be a stressful period with a declining quality of life.[ 10 , 11 , 12 , 13 ] Among the possible causes for such findings are the increasing sense of responsibility and uncertainty in this period as well as the transition from being an observer of medicine to a practitioner.[ 10 ]
Young adults have been found to cope with such stressful experiences by increasing their time spent on mobiles. The mobile phone offers several advantages like portability, accessibility, and privacy even in a public setting, among others, thereby offering a small “security blanket” effect, lowering the initial negative reactions to stress. However, pervasive use of this coping strategy is unlikely to remain beneficial in the long-run, with resultant adverse mental health impact.[ 14 ] Further, both high levels of stress and smartphone use have been found to be associated with higher PV/PR sensations as described earlier.[ 6 , 7 ] Phantom perceptual experiences cannot be explained by stress alone. A multitude of factors such as personality traits of anxiety and avoidance, and situational ones like expecting a call or message and being concerned about an issue that one may be contacted about at a given time may also influence the experience.[ 15 ]
With this background, we set out with the aim to estimate the prevalence of phantom perceptual experiences of smartphone ringing/vibrating among medical students at a private university in western India. We also attempted to examine the association of these with perceived stress levels and smartphone usage pattern.
MATERIALS AND METHODS
This was a cross-sectional study conducted after obtaining clearance from the Institutional Ethics Committee (IEC). Our sample consisted of medical interns from the institute—a private university located in western India. Initial screening of the interns was done by a qualified psychiatrist. Interns who were smartphone users and consented to the study were recruited. We chose smartphone users specifically, as these are the most commonly used devices these days, especially among younger populations, and one of the tools used was specifically designed for smartphone users. Hence, traditional basic or feature phone users were not included. Further, those with a present or past history of mental illness or alcohol/substance dependence were also excluded to minimize the impact of abnormal perceptual experience related to mental illness on normal phantom sensations.
Students belonging to only one particular year—internship—were recruited. This would have helped in minimizing the potential variation in stress levels among students belonging to different levels of seniority.[ 16 ] The sample size was 118 (all students doing the internship), out of which data from 25 interns could not be included due to incomplete data or refusal to participate, resulting in a total recruited sample of 93 students.
Method of data collection
Data were collected by a qualified psychiatrist using the following instruments: (1) semi-structured questionnaire in English for documenting details about the PV/PR sensations over the last 1 month anonymously and confidentially; (2) perceived stress scale (PSS)[ 17 ]—PSS is the most widely used psychological instrument for measuring the perception of stress. It is a measure of the degree to which situations in one's life are appraised as stressful. The questions are of a general nature and hence relatively free of content specific to any subpopulation group. PSS has 10 items where each item is rated on a 5-point Likert scale ranging from never (0) to almost always (4). Positively worded items are reverse scored and the ratings are summed, with higher scores indicating more perceived stress. The questions in the PSS ask about feelings and thoughts during the last month. This scale has been found to be a substantially reliable measurement tool (i.e., coefficient of reliability = 0.84, 0.85, and 0.86, in three test samples) with high reliability (a = 0.78) and acceptable validity; (3) smartphone addiction scale-short version (SAS-SV)[ 18 ]—the SAS-SV is a validated scale originally constructed in South Korea, but published in English. It contains 10 items rated on a dimensional scale (1 “strongly disagree” to 6 “strongly agree”). The total score ranges from 10 to 60, with the highest score being the maximum presence of “smartphone addiction” in the past year. The original SAS-SV showed content and concurrent validity and internal consistency (Cronbach's alpha: 0.91).
All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.
Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.
Demographic details and information about the experience of phantom sensations were assessed using frequency distribution tables. Chi-square test was used to assess the relationship between the experience of phantom sensations with other smartphone use characteristics like the use of the phone in vibration mode and the average number of calls/messages received in a day. The relationship between PSS/SAS-SV scores and gender was assessed using independent t -test. The relationship between PSS/SAS-SV scores and experience of phantom sensations was assessed using analysis of variance (ANOVA). Karl Pearson correlation coefficient was used to assess the relationship between PSS and SAS-SV scores.
Of 93 recruited students, almost 63% ( n = 59) were females. Eighty-seven percent ( n = 81) of the students carried only one mobile phone. Almost 51% ( n = 47) of the students kept phones in their side pockets (e.g., apron) whereas 47% ( n = 44) kept them in their front pocket (e.g., trouser). Ninety-six percent ( n = 89) students used the “vibration” function irrespective of whether the phone was on silent or ringing mode. About 70% ( n = 65) of the students reported receiving an average of more than 10 calls/messages per day.
On evaluating the scores on PSS, 59% ( n = 55) had a score of greater than 20, indicating high levels of stress. Further, on taking a cutoff score of 31 for males and 33 for females in SAS-SV, almost 40% ( n = 37) of the students had a high level of smartphone usage pattern possibly approaching addiction. Males were found to have a significantly higher SAS-SV score as compared to females. On assessing Karl Pearson correlation coefficient, a weak positive relationship ( r = 0.297) was found between PSS and SAS-SV scores, indicating 29.7% students with higher PSS score had a significantly higher SAS-SV score, which was more significant among females as compared to males. The students who showed high levels of stress and smartphone usage were further evaluated psychologically and offered appropriate treatment interventions, which was not part of the study.
Sixty percent ( n = 56) of the students reported having experienced PV, and 42% ( n = 39) had experienced PR. There was a significant relationship between the prevalence of phantom sensations with use of the phone in vibration mode and the average number of calls/messages received per day [ Table 1 ]. Mean SAS-SV score was significantly lower in students who did not experience PR as compared to those who did. There was no difference in their mean PSS score. On the other hand, both mean PSS score and SAS-SV score were significantly lower in students who did not perceive PV as compared to those who did [ Table 2 ].
Relationship between “use of phone in vibration mode” and “approximate number of calls received per day” with experience of “phantom sensations”
Relationship between experience of “phantom sensations” with PSS and SAS-SV scores (ANOVA)
PV and PR are common forms of pseudo-hallucination in the general population, especially the teenagers and adolescents.[ 7 ] Prevalence of phantom sensations shows wide variability. An Iranian study involving medical students found the prevalence of 54.3% and 49.3% for PV and PR, respectively, which is close to our findings of 60% and 49%, respectively.[ 19 ] On the other hand, baseline prevalence among Taiwanese medical interns was found to be 78.1% and 27.4% for PV and PR, respectively, which spiked to a maximum of 95.9% and 87.7% respectively during the period of internship.[ 7 ] Similar high prevalence of PV (93%) was reported among Pakistani medical students.[ 20 ] An Indian study involving 300 students found the prevalence to be around 74%.[ 9 ] Such wide variation could be accounted for by different geographical and sociodemographic characteristics along with varied levels of stress and emotional responses among different populations.[ 21 ]
Similar to our findings, previous studies too have reported higher prevalence of phantom sensations when using the phone in vibration mode and among those who spend more time using their mobile phone.[ 7 , 9 ] On the subjective evaluation of the extent of phone use based on the approximate number of calls/messages attended per day, we found a significant relationship with experience of phantom sensations [ Table 1 ]. Further, on an objective evaluation of the extent of phone use by applying SAS-SV scale, lower scores were significantly associated with lower chances of experiencing phantom sensations [ Table 2 ]. Thus, we found a possible relationship between the extent of smartphone use and experience of PV/PR. This phenomenon could have three possible explanations: (1) higher smartphone use emanates from differing needs like productivity-enhancement, information-seeking, social information, and interaction, diversion and relaxation, entertainment, monetary compensation, and personal status.[ 4 ] Individuals are reliant on messages/calls/alerts to navigate their personal, professional, and social relationships and hence more likely to receive more messages, keep their phone in vibration mode to be alerted to those messages, and thus develop heightened sensitivity to mobile phone vibrations because of repeated exposure.[ 19 ] (2) Higher smartphone use is often considered as a risk factor for developing anxiety, stress, and depression, indicating higher stress levels among such individuals leading to heightened sensitivity and predisposition to misinterpretation of sensory stimuli or imagined vibrations.[ 14 ] Mobile phones may also be used as a coping method to deal with negative emotion, suggesting a bidirectional relationship.[ 22 ] Our finding of lower PSS scores being significantly associated with a lower experience of PV also supports the latter possibility. (3) Certain psychological attributes, as explained earlier, could have interacted with contextual factors like emergency duties, which are common during the internship, leading to higher chances of PV and PR experiences.[ 15 ]
On assessing the PSS scores independently, the majority of our subjects (59%) were found to have a high level of stress, with a mean score of 20.85 (+5.39) among males and 19.44 (+5.82) among females. This is similar to the findings among students affiliated to a medical college in Orissa, India where 53% were found to be suffering from stress, with females suffering significantly more than males.[ 16 ] We did not find any gender difference in PSS scores. They also found higher morbidity among senior students. Similar results were observed among medical students in Bangladesh[ 23 ] and the United States of America.[ 24 ]
On assessing the SAS-SV scores independently, 40% of our students had a score above the cutoff recommended by Kwon et al . (2013),[ 18 ] with males having a significantly higher score. A recent study utilizing the full version of SAS found 33.3% adolescents were high users of the smartphone with males having significantly higher scores as compared to females, similar to our finding.[ 25 ] An interesting term, nomophobia, has been coined depicting an irrational fear of being without one's phone or of being unable to use one's phone for some reason. An Indian study involving medical students from Bengaluru found 39.5% of their subjects to be suffering from nomophobia, suggesting high mobile phone use.[ 26 ] They also found the prevalence of nomophobia to be higher in males, though not statistically significant. Another study utilizing a different scale found a high prevalence rate of mobile phone dependence (85.1%) among medical students in Nanded, India.[ 27 ]
A weak positive correlation was found ( r = 0.297) between PSS and SAS-SV scores, suggesting a reciprocal relationship between stress and smartphone addiction. A recent systematic review found stress to be somewhat consistently related to problematic mobile phone use, with small to medium effect size.[ 4 ] Bidirectional relationship between negative emotion and mobile phone use has been observed, as explained earlier.[ 22 ]
This study confirms findings from other national and international research about the experience of cell phone phantom sensations and their relationship with the pattern of phone use and stress level. It also brings to light high levels of stress and problematic smartphone use among medical students during their internship period. Although the experience of phantom sensations does not indicate psychopathology per se , it could be considered as a sign indicating problematic mobile phone usage and possibly clinically high levels of stress warranting further investigation. This study also has its own limitations. Considering the fact that the study population involved only medical students doing the internship, our findings cannot be generalized to the public or even the students in different phases of medical education. Personality attributes of these students were not accounted for and provide an opportunity for further research.
Financial support and sponsorship
Conflicts of interest.
There are no conflicts of interest.
'Phantom' Cell Phone Sensations: Mind Over Matter
Modern gadgets may convince the brain that they are part of the body.
Oct. 17, 2007 — -- Phantom arms, legs and now cell phone vibrations -- you can feel them, you can sense them, but they aren't really there.
Chalked up largely to a natural anomaly in the wiring of the brain, such experiences blur the boundaries between reality and imagination in those who experience them.
It is hard, for example, to understand how patients who have had an arm or leg amputated can experience acute pain in a limb that is no longer there. But for these people, the pain is uncomfortably real.
"In the past, it was thought that people with phantom limbs were crazy, but today we know that people aren't crazy," says Dr. Jack Tsao, an assistant professor of neurology at the Uniform Services University in Maryland. "There is a physiological basis to this sensation."
And phantom sensations don't just affect amputees. Though it is a complaint of an entirely different magnitude, many cell phone and BlackBerry users report feeling vibrations when their phones are, in fact, silent.
Although such sensations are nothing like pain from a phantom limb, doctors say the two phenomena may be somewhat related.
"If you use your cell phone a lot, it becomes part of you," says Dr. William Barr, the chief of neuropsychology at the New York University School of Medicine. "You become habituated to it.
"It's like wearing a tight sock all day," he explains. "When you take it off, you still feel it there on your foot. If your cell phone is not there, you still feel like it is."
Although the reasons for these false perceptions are not definitely known, researchers agree that, in both cases, a certain part of the brain plays a key role.
For amputees who experience phantom limbs, the part of the brain affected is called the somatosensory cortex. This region contains nerves that process information related to touch.
For example, if someone touches your hand, nerves in a particular area of the somatosensory cortex are activated, allowing you to feel that your hand is being touched. All of your body parts are mapped out to a certain area of the cortex.
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What Is Phantom Vibration Syndrome?
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Have You Ever Experienced Phantom Vibration Syndrome?
Have you ever felt your phone vibrate in your pocket, only to realize that there was no incoming call or message? If so, you may have experienced a curious phenomenon known as Phantom Vibration Syndrome.
- Phantom Vibration Syndrome (PVS) is the sensation of feeling a phone vibrate or ring when it actually hasn’t.
- It is a common phenomenon experienced by up to 90% of mobile phone users.
Phantom Vibration Syndrome, also referred to as Phantom Cell Phone Syndrome or Phantom Ringing, is a phenomenon where individuals perceive the sensation of their mobile phone vibrating or ringing, even when it is not. It is incredibly common, with surveys suggesting that up to 90% of cell phone users have experienced it at some point.
So, what causes this bizarre sensation? There are several theories, but experts believe that it is primarily due to psychological factors and the human brain’s tendency to seek out patterns and stimuli.
Here are some possible explanations for Phantom Vibration Syndrome:
1. Sensory Deprivation:
When we carry our phones in our pockets or bags, our bodies become accustomed to the sensation of the phone’s vibrations. Over time, our brains start to anticipate these vibrations and create false sensations. This phenomenon is similar to the way our brains respond to the familiar sound of our own name in a crowded room.
2. Cognitive Bias:
We are wired to detect patterns and signals in our environment, even when they are not present. This cognitive bias is known as pareidolia. In the case of Phantom Vibration Syndrome, our brains may mistake random movements or sensations for phone vibrations, especially when we are in a state of heightened awareness or expectation.
In addition to these explanations, psychological factors such as anxiety or the fear of missing out (FOMO) may also contribute to the experience of Phantom Vibration Syndrome. The constant connectivity that comes with smartphones can create a sense of urgency, leading us to constantly check our devices and heightening our sensitivity to phantom vibrations.
While Phantom Vibration Syndrome may seem like a harmless quirk, it can have some negative effects on our well-being. Some individuals may experience increased anxiety or stress due to the constant anticipation of notifications or calls. Others may find themselves disengaging from real-world interactions because they are constantly checking their phones.
So, what can you do if you are experiencing Phantom Vibration Syndrome? Here are a few suggestions:
- Take a break: Try reducing your screen time and taking breaks from your phone to reset your brain’s sensitivity to vibrations.
- Practice mindfulness: Engage in activities that promote mindfulness, such as meditation or yoga, to help reduce anxiety and increase awareness of the present moment.
- Adjust your notification settings: Customize your phone’s notification settings to reduce the frequency of alerts and prioritize important calls or messages.
Remember, Phantom Vibration Syndrome is a common phenomenon and not necessarily a cause for concern. By understanding its possible causes and implementing strategies to manage it, you can maintain a healthy relationship with your phone and minimize the impact of phantom vibrations on your well-being.
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How To Change Your AirDrop Name On IPhone 11
- How To Take A Picture Of The Moon With IPhone 11
How many inches in iphone 11, how to change lock screen password iphone 11, how to charge iphone 11 without adapter, how to fix ghost touch iphone 11, what is the difference between the iphone 11 and 13.
What's the Deal With Phantom Phone Vibrations?
You're probably just too attached to your phone.
By Daniel J. Kruger , University of Michigan
Have you ever experienced a phantom phone call or text? You’re convinced that you felt your phone vibrate in your pocket, or that you heard your ringtone, but when you check your phone, no one actually tried to get in touch with you.
You then might plausibly wonder: “Is my phone acting up, or is it me?”
Well, it’s probably you, and it could be a sign of just how attached you’ve become to your phone.
At least you’re not alone. Over 80 percent of college students we surveyed have experienced it . However, if it’s happening a lot — more than once a day — it could be a sign that you’re psychologically dependent on your cellphone.
There’s no question that cellphones are part of the social fabric in many parts of the world, and some people spend hours each day on their phones. Our research team recently found that most people will fill their downtime by fiddling with their phones. Others even do so in the middle of a conversation. And most people will check their phones within 10 seconds of getting in line for coffee or arriving at a destination.
Clinicians and researchers still debate whether excessive use of cellphones or other technology can constitute an addiction. It wasn’t included in the latest update to the DSM-5 , the American Psychiatric Association’s definitive guide for classifying and diagnosing mental disorders.
But given the ongoing debate , we decided to see if phantom buzzes and rings could shed some light on the issue.
A Virtual Drug?
Addictions are pathological conditions in which people compulsively seek rewarding stimuli, despite the negative consequences. We often hear reports about how cellphone use can be problematic for relationships and for developing effective social skills .
One of the features of addictions is that people become hypersensitive to cues related to the rewards they are craving. Whatever it is, they start to see it everywhere. (I had a college roommate who once thought that he saw a bee’s nest made out of cigarette butts hanging from the ceiling.)
So might people who crave the messages and notifications from their virtual social worlds do the same? Would they mistakenly interpret something they hear as a ringtone, their phone rubbing in their pocket as a vibrating alert or even think they see a notification on their phone screen, when, in reality, nothing is there?
A Human Malfunction
We decided to find out. From a tested survey measure of problematic cellphone use , we pulled out items assessing psychological cellphone dependency. We also created questions about the frequency of experiencing phantom ringing, vibrations and notifications. We then administered an online survey to over 750 undergraduate students.
Those who scored higher on cellphone dependency — they more often used their phones to make themselves feel better, became irritable when they couldn’t use their phones, and thought about using their phone when they weren’t on it — had more frequent phantom phone experiences .
Cellphone manufacturers and phone service providers have assured us that phantom phone experiences are not a problem with the technology. As HAL 9000 might say, they are a product of “human error.”
So where, exactly, have we erred? We are in a brave new world of virtual socialization, and the psychological and social sciences can barely keep up with advances in the technology .
Phantom phone experiences may seem like a relatively small concern in our electronically connected age. But they raise the specter of how reliant we are on our phones and how much influence phones have in our social lives.
How can we navigate the use of cellphones to maximize the benefits and minimize the hazards, whether it’s improving our own mental health or honing our live social skills? What other new technologies will change how we interact with others?
Our minds will continue to buzz with anticipation.
Daniel J. Kruger , Research Assistant Professor, University of Michigan .
This article was originally published on The Conversation . Read the original article .