Virtually everyone that owns a cell phone has experienced the sensation of feeling the phone vibrating away, only to find that no one has called. This is an extension of the notorious “phantom” phone ringing of traditional land lines, only to find no one has called. But what are behind these experiences? Professor Alex Blaszczynski of Perdue University and colleagues believe they have isolated the cause. It’s due, they explain in their paper published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior, to the brain mixing anticipation with electrical signals in the air. The Sydney Morning Herald in reporting on the study says that this new research should settle the matter once and for all.
It’s a phenomenon that 68% of people have experienced, Blaszczynski says, with 87% of those saying they have experienced it weekly. It’s one of those events that occur in people’s lives that have become so commonplace that they no longer think about it much.
Still, the Herald says, it would be nice to know why it happens. After studying the circumstances surrounding faux ringing or buzzing using school undergraduates as volunteers, Blaszczynski and his team found that such false sensations tend to occur when there is more than the usual amount of static electric in the air. But that’s only part of the story, as static levels of electricity rise and fall far more often than do false ringing reports. This, they say is due to the expectation of a call. When combined with the electrical stimulation going on in the brain when static levels are high, it’s no wonder the brain interprets such activity as something the ears are already looking to hear.
The researchers have also found that there are two kinds of people that either hear a lot of false rings or feel buzzes that aren’t there, or don’t, and they fall into common psychological profiles. Those that fall on the neurotic side of the psychological scale, for example, report far more false calls than do aren’t so much. The same thing goes for extroverts who quite naturally make a lot of friends and tend to receive a lot of calls. A simple itch could be construed as a buzzing if the expectation is high enough.
The researchers also note that “phantom” vibration or ringing syndrome isn’t technically a syndrome, despite the fact that it affects so many people. This is because they say, in order for something to be syndrome, it has to bother those impacted, and their study indicates that’s not really the case with such events.