Do you ever think your phone is buzzing when it’s not?
Cell phones are now a device many people think they can’t live without. This dependency may be causing “phantom vibrations,” a common symptom of a new anxiety disorder called phantom vibration syndrome.
Phantom vibrations occur when people feel a vibration in their pocket only to discover that their phone never went off. They simply imagined it. Eighty-nine percent of college students have experienced a phantom vibration, according to a study published in the psychology journal Computers in Human Behavior.
“We are now so primed with anxiety about our electronic world that we misinterpret a simple signal from our neurons (receptors that detect touch) located below our pocket as an incoming [text] message rather than an itch that needs to be scratched,” explained Larry Rosen, a professor of psychology at California State University – Dominguez Hills and author of the book iDisorder, in Psychology Today.
“Vibrations could be due to the brain misinterpreting sensory input or due to people’s emotional dependence on their phones,” says Osborne.
The study reported less than 10 percent of the subjects found the phantom vibrations were bothersome. On average, they occurred once every two weeks. In the most severe cases, participants experienced multiple phantom vibrations every day.
According to researchers, this syndrome could highlight addictive tendencies and a desire to feel connected.
Study leaders also believed cell phone addiction is linked to the fear of missing out. Phantom vibrations were shown to be particularly prevalent in participants with social media accounts on their phones. People can become so entwined with what their friends are doing, they forget to have fun themselves, said researchers.
Another study found that the frequency of phantom vibrations was directly correlated to duration of phone use and emotional behavior. This means people who use mobile phones more often, such as college students or hospital employees, are more prone to phantom vibrations.
Although this has become a new phenomenon, Osborne says people have nothing to be concerned about if they are only experiencing phantom vibrations occasionally. In these cases, she recommends that people take their phone off vibrate mode, don’t carry it on their body or take a break from it and turn it off.
In rare cases, phantom vibrations may be a sign of a more serious issue.
“Patients should see their doctor if they experience phantom vibrations frequently or they cause them excessive worry. Also, a pattern of on-going sensory input errors may suggest a more severe problem,” says Osborne.
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