By Tim Locke
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD
Jan. 11, 2016 -- An expert is warning about a modern-day phenomenon called phantom vibration syndrome, where people think their mobile phone is ringing or vibrating when it's not.
Apparently some of us are so concerned about missing a call or text that we've become extra aware of the sensations that mean one is incoming.
Robert Rosenberger, PhD, studies the impact technology has on our behavior at the Georgia Institute of Technology. He says detecting a vibrating phone has become a habit, and the slightest muscle twitch or feeling of clothing moving could be wrongly interpreted as phone vibration.
He says a study of students found around 90% of them said they felt the sensations.
Today mobile phones are causing the hallucinations, but in the 1990s, people reported "phantom pager syndrome."
Before being called phantom vibration syndrome, the condition was briefly known as "ringxiety."
Technology 'Becomes a Part of You'
"Think about wearing a pair of glasses," Rosenberger says in a statement. "If you're accustomed to your glasses and they almost become a part of you, you can forget that you're even wearing them sometimes. The phone in your pocket is like this.
"Through bodily habit, your phone actually becomes a part of you, and you become trained to perceive the phone's vibrations as an incoming call or text. So, due to these kinds of habits, it becomes really easy to misperceive other similar sensations."
Rosenberger has published research into phantom vibration syndrome in the journal Computers in Human Behavior, in which he says most people do not find the phantom messages "very bothersome."
Rather than technology dependency "rewiring the brain," he believes the tendency to check phones comes from the basic human nature to obsess about things.
This, he says, is similar to constantly checking to see if a guest has arrived, or a commuter straining to hear the arrival of a train.
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SOURCES: Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, USA. Rosenberger, R. Computers in Human Behavior, Nov. 1, 2015. Asia Pacific Psychiatry: "Phantom vibration and phantom ringing among mobile phone users: A systematic review of literature."
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