Phantom vibration syndrome (‘I swear I heard my phone’) explained by science

Have you ever thought ‘I swear I heard my phone’ after grabbing your phone just to find out there is no message or missed call? You may be experiencing something called the ‘phantom vibration syndrome’. The good news is that you are not alone and there is an explanation for this phenomena.

What is the phantom vibration syndrome?

‘Phantom vibration syndrome’ is the perception that one’s phone is vibrating or ringing, when it’s not. Technically it’s more a tactile hallucination than a syndrome, since the brain perceives a sensation that is not present.

Why does this happen?

Study shows that 89% of people experience a phantom vibration once every two weeks. Researcher and Psychology Professor Michelle Drouin explains that we are trained to be alert to signals. If we label a phone call or text message as important, we are sensitive to the signal and we expect them to come. The brain has filters to deal with an overwhelming amount of sensory input. This filtering is called a ‘hypothesis guided search’. The brain sometimes misinterprets the sensory input. The more you are attached to your phone, the more you will experience these false alarms.

When we are stressed or are expecting an important message, the phenomena happens more often. This hypersensitivity causes us to think we feel or hear our phone ever more.

How to stop phantom vibrations

Most people are not bothered by the phantom-vibrations. If you, however, would like to stop them you can do the following.

  1. Use your phone less by putting it away for several hours a day
  2. Switch your phone to silent or non-vibrating mode
  3. Vary how you carry your phone: instead of always having it in your back pocket lay it down beside you, put it in a bag or pick a different pocket.

By doing this you will not experience the phantom vibrations – or not as much.

Have you ever experienced these phantom vibrations?

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