Have you ever been walking around with a muted cell phone in your pocket and felt it vibrate, only to take it out and find you imagined the alert? If so, then you’re one of the 9 out of 10 people who have suffered from ‘phantom vibration syndrome,’ which researchers say is caused by “learned bodily habits.”
Dr. Robert Rosenberger, a philosopher and assistant professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology, published his research in the Computers in Human Behaviour journal that suggested when a person leaves a cell phone in their pocket it becomes “part of their body” and they forget it is there. Much like when a person forgets that they are wearing glasses.
As we are so used to these devices being in our pockets, we start interpreting the smallest movements as phone calls. Rosenberger describes this feeling as a “hallucination,” and says it is partly due to the anxiety so many people feel in today’s always-connected society, as they are constantly on edge in case they miss a phone call or email alert.
“People then perceive other sensations such as movement of clothing of muscle spasms as vibrations from your mobile, but it’s just a hallucination,” said the professor.
While some of this research may seem a bit obvious, one interesting theory Rosenberger put forward is that technology may actually be altering our brain chemistry and changing cognitive pathways. "People are guessing it has something to do with nervous energy," said Rosenberger. "The cognitive scientists are talking about brain chemistry, cognitive pathways changing. But it’s not like they have brain scans to go on."
While the so-called ‘phantom vibration syndrome’ isn’t exactly a problem, with only 2 percent of people considering it an issue, the fact that so many people experience it shows how entrenched today’s technology is in our lives.