Phantom Vibration Syndrome

Many cellphone users are reporting that they often feel their cellphone vibrating, when it's not vibrating at all. The phenomenon is being called Phantom Vibration Syndrome (an allusion, I assume, to Phantom Limb Syndrome, in which amputees feel sensations in their missing limbs).

Psychologists attribute these phantom vibrations to cellphone users' brains becoming over-alert to the sensation of vibration, and therefore experiencing false alarms:
Alejandro Lleras, a sensation and perception professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, adds that learning to detect rings and vibrations is part of a perceptual learning process. "When we learn to respond to a cellphone, we're setting perceptual filters so that we can pick out that (ring or vibration), even under noisy conditions," Lleras says. "As the filter is created, it is imperfect, and false alarms will occur. Random noise is interpreted as a real signal, when in fact, it isn't." Phantom cellphone vibrations also can be explained by neuroplasticity — the brain's ability to form new connections in response to changes in the environment. When cellphone users regularly experience sensations, such as vibrating, their brains become wired to those sensations, Janata says. "Neurological connections that have been used or formed by the sensation of vibrating are easily activated," he says. "They're over-solidified, and similar sensations are incorporated into that template. They become a habit of the brain."
I'm one of the last remaining people on the Planet Earth not to have a cellphone, so thankfully I'm immune to this syndrome.

Psychology Technology

Posted on Thu Jun 14, 2007


I am constantly reacing for my phone in my pocket because I swear I feel it vibrating...its annoying.
Posted by Slender Loris  on  Thu Jun 14, 2007  at  10:56 AM
Oh. my. God. (And. no. for. once. I'm. not. being. sarcastic.) I have actually felt this. I have a cellphone provided by my employer, but I only carry it and have it turned on when I am on the clock. (So if you've been interrupted by some jerk's cellphone while at a movie or in church or at a restaurant in Indiana, that particular jerk wasn't me.) Anyway, I don't carry it around very often, so I wouldn't think I would be high-risk for this thing, but criminey, it happens to me almost every time I do break down and turn the silly thing on.

I thought I was kind of nutty -- which perhaps I am, but at least I have plenty of company. Talk about an epiphany.
Posted by Kathleen  on  Thu Jun 14, 2007  at  11:52 AM
If I hadn't needed a mode of communication in my current situation I would have probably been among that same small subgroup Alex... but since getting my cell phone I have been fooled by this condition at least once as well. I rarely put my phone on vibrate, but occasionally I have been fooled into thinking it was vibrating when it wasn't...

perhaps there is some evil force at work here actually forcing cell phones to vibrate remotely without an actual call coming through 🐛

*takes phone out of pocket and backs away*
Posted by oppiejoe  on  Thu Jun 14, 2007  at  01:21 PM
I don't really use the vibrate mode on my phone (it does give 4 shore pulses & then a little :dinkdink: sound when I get a text message, but other than that - no vibrating).

BUT...I have heard my cell's ring before when it isn't ringing. And that might not be THAT weird, if I had just the standard "ring 1" or whatever it's labeled on the default settings. But I have personalized some Elvis songs for my family members. Jason's is "Always on my Mind". I SWEAR I am hearing it even when I can clearly look at my phone & KNOW it's not going off. My mom's is the American trilogy thing...and starts off w/ the "glory glory halleluuuuuuujah" part...and I can hear the long held U when she's not calling. And my sis...texts much more often than she calls me...yet I still hear Suspicious Minds when she's not trying to reach me.

I used to always hear the AIM default IM sound...EVERYWHERE, too. It was weird.
Posted by Maegan  on  Thu Jun 14, 2007  at  02:44 PM
Oh! I just thought of something!!

What if these ARE NOT phantom rings & vibrates?? What if your cell provider is somehow able to trigger sounds & that you will pick up your phone...and while you are holding it, decide to make a call??? Hmm...
Posted by Maegan  on  Thu Jun 14, 2007  at  02:46 PM
Now I know I'm not crazy or something. I feel this from time to time.
Posted by ドリーマー  on  Thu Jun 14, 2007  at  03:24 PM
I've had this happen to me a lot. Whenever I'm carrying my cell phone, in fact.
Posted by Sakano  on  Thu Jun 14, 2007  at  04:42 PM
I feel this all the time. Unfortunately, I also sometimes do not feel my phone when it actually is vibrating.
Posted by Sergio  on  Thu Jun 14, 2007  at  07:31 PM
Congrats on resisting cell phones. I think it's down to you, me, and Stephen King.
Posted by Mark  on  Fri Jun 15, 2007  at  02:02 AM
Posted by outeast  on  Fri Jun 15, 2007  at  07:21 AM
"... I think it's down to you, me, and Stephen King."

And me.
Posted by Big Gary  on  Fri Jun 15, 2007  at  06:20 PM
...and me! Quite frankly, I hate the damn things. If that is status, I'll stay at the bottom of the food chain. I've managed to do quite well for myself WITHOUT one of those ball and chain set ups, OR long distance service on my home phone (thank you very much).
Posted by Christopher  on  Sun Jun 17, 2007  at  06:46 AM
I have this vibration sensation even when I am not wearing my cell phone. I feel it in the bottom of my feet as well as in my shoulders. I have my phone on vibrate and sound but when it rings, I rarely feel the vibration. It's very strange.
Posted by Loren  on  Sun Jun 17, 2007  at  05:52 PM
Happens to me ALL THE TIME.
Posted by SoxSweepAgain  on  Wed Jun 27, 2007  at  12:46 PM
yay i aint crazy!!!
Posted by boje  on  Thu Apr 09, 2009  at  10:55 AM
okay i was actually cursing myself from the last week or so saying i wouldve been the first one reporting this thing. i called this thing a 'syndrome' in my own head. and i begin typing it on google and whoa! it completed the word for me! feels good am not alone! :D
Posted by noreen  on  Thu Aug 20, 2009  at  11:30 AM
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