They're called phantom vibrations, and they're a common phenomenon since the turn of the mobile age. These sensory hallucinations are so common that researchers have done studies devoted to finding out what the heck is going on here.
The British Medical Journal conducted the first survey on phantom vibrations in 2010, asking hospital workers about their experience. 68 percent of workers reported reaching out for their phones when they weren't ringing on either a weekly or monthly basis.
The cause of these vibrations wasn't made clear, but the researchers suspect our minds are playing tricks on us. We deal with an overwhelming amount of sensory input, which is only made worse by our attachment to our phones. To cope with that, our brains apply filters based on what they expect to find. So when we anticipate a call or text, our brains might misinterpret sensations, like pressure from clothing or muscle contractions, resulting in phantom vibrations.
In the case of the hospital workers study, this reason makes a lot of sense. Medical professionals are expected to carry mobile devices and constantly be on call, so it's no surprise that they reported phantom vibrations occurring so frequently.
In 2012, a study published in Computers in Human Behavior looked at the prevalence of phantom vibrations among college undergrads. 89 percent of the students reported perceived vibrations from their phones, and they experienced them about once every two weeks, on average.
This study took it a step further and looked at emotional reactions to the phantom vibrations. Overall, undergrads weren't really bothered by them, but those who did find them annoying were rated higher in the emotional reaction scale of text message dependence.
According to CSU psychologist Dr. Larry Rosen, phantom vibrations stem from a compulsive, obsessive behavior we have with our phones. With smartphones, we're constantly connected to our network, family, and friends, and this ever-present connection might be responsible for the fake vibrations. Dr. Rosen recommends weaning ourselves away from our phones for short periods, like 30 minutes to an hour.
The takeaway here is that these phantom vibrations? They're all in your mind. If they start to bother you, take more phone breaks. Cut down on social media check-ins, stay off your phone during dinner and especially during face-to-face conversations. That's just bad manners.
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