Why We Should Care About the Phantom Vibration Syndrome

Photo by Adrian Swancar on Unsplash

This article was written by Annabelle Kim.

Have you ever felt your phone ringing or vibrating only to pull it out and realize you have no new texts or calls? If you have, you are not alone. This phenomenon, known as the Phantom Vibration Syndrome, is becoming increasingly prevalent among cell phone users like yourself.

Just as its name suggests, the Phantom Vibration Syndrome refers to when mobile users believe they received calls or notifications after sensing or hearing vibrations when their devices did not, in fact, go off at all. According to a study, conducted in 2012, 89% of 290 undergraduates surveyed experienced phantom vibrations at a frequency of, on average, once every 2 weeks. Although the exact cause is unknown, experts suggest that these vibrations occur when the cerebrum misinterprets other sensory inputs as phone vibrations when anticipating a notification.

One interesting fact to note is that most of the undergraduates from this study reported that they didn’t find the phantom vibrations to be that bothersome.

If that is the case, what makes this syndrome concerning?

The Phantom Vibration Syndrome is one of many ways that social media is physically manifesting itself into our daily lives and altering our behaviors, both alone and in the presence of others. And even though phantom vibrations may not seem like problems that significantly change how we go about in our lives, these seeming hallucinations are emblematic of the onset of a deeper issue, one that is indicative of the effect social media has on our mental health.

The Phantom Vibration Syndrome has been associated with increased anticipatory anxiety. Similarly, those who showed more emotional reactivity to texts and notifications or were more prone to addictive behavior and depression found the phantom vibrations to be more severe and bothersome.

Some individuals may suffer more from these phantom vibrations because they are seeking external validation via various social platforms. With its likes and notifications system feeding dopamine to users, it is known that the rewarding nature of social media was designed to be addictive. Therefore, it comes as little surprise that particular individuals may highly anticipate notifications, especially those with anxiety or depression since both are correlated with low self esteem.

What is most unfortunate is that these tactile hallucinations prevent individuals from being fully present in the moment and, instead, heighten their existing struggles even further. That is why, each time someone feels their phone mysteriously vibrate, they ought to remember the alarming grasp social media has on us and, by extension, the potential it holds to control the way we think.

Even though these phantom vibrations might not appear to be particularly noteworthy, there is still a lot we have to understand when it comes to sensing illusionary vibrations. When people start to hear things that aren’t there, it’s natural that they grow worried and question themselves. At the very least, it is essential that individuals are made aware of the harmful effects that social media might have on them and that they are not alone in their struggle of managing the overwhelming presence of technology.

The Phantom Vibration Syndrome serves as an impactful symbol of a difficult, yet unavoidable, relationship that we have with technology. It is also a reminder that we must eventually learn to distance ourselves from the ever evolving world of technology if we truly wish to maintain or improve our mental wellness.

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