New research uncovers phantom phone vibration phenomenon
Anyone who owns a cellphone might have experienced hallucinations and strange sensations, but a new study shows they're not crazy.
Rather than hallucinations caused by drugs or psychosis, new research suggests that cell phones may be causing hallucinations of a lower grade. It is the sensation of feeling a cell phone vibrating when it is not: a phantom phone vibration.
Dr. Benjamin Mitchell-Yellin's article in Psychology Today recounted an experiment analyzing the hallucination theory, concluding that hallucinations might be a lot more common than once thought.
According to Mitchell-Yellin, participants in the experiment included people with and without psychosis along with those who had or had not experienced hearing voices. Researchers conducted various trials. One such experiment included using light, sound and a combination of the two to assess each participant’s susceptibility to hallucinations through a comparison of what they were actually exposed to compared to what they reportedly experienced.
The results suggest that people of normal mental health can experience simple hallucinations just as those with psychosis could, including phantom phone vibrations. According to Mitchell-Yellin, 68 percent of people in one study said they experienced this phenomenon.
Professor of psychology Dr. Robert Fisher is wary of using such an acute medical term as “hallucination” for a common incident.
“I think there is some danger in using the word ‘hallucination,’” Fisher said. “Normally when we think of hallucinations, we think of these visions that people have who have psychosis.”
Fisher said he believes that phantom vibrations are the result of a few aspects of life, like patterns of behavior, classical conditioning and expectancy.
“The expectancy effect—now, that is a very powerful psychological effect,” Fisher said. “We can often be influenced by what we expect to happen, almost to the point where we are looking for it.”
The expectancy effect refers to when a subject generates an idea in their mind and anticipates the desired result. Fisher said he would argue that people have become familiar with the presence of a cell phone. The phone’s vibrating sensation is then anticipated, much like Pavlov’s dogs anticipating food.
On the contrary, Mitchell-Yellin said he affirms the use of the term “hallucination” in this instance. According to Mitchell-Yellin, the problem isn’t the term but, perhaps, our perception of it. He concludes from his research that hallucinations come in levels of extremity, from psychotic perceptions of an altered reality to commonplace occurrences such as a phone vibration.
Graduate student in school counseling Carter Landreth said he believes a societal addiction to cell phones may be contributing to this phenomenon.
In accordance with Fisher’s expectancy theory, he said the extensive time people spend on their phones drives them to anticipate notifications, which could lead to the sensation of phantom vibrations.
However, when it comes to cell phones, Fisher said potential hallucinations are of the least concern.
“[Cell phones] definitely have an effect on our social connections,” Fisher said. “I think the more obvious impact is socially rather than physically.”