'Thought I was going crazy ... I
feel my phone in my pocket vibrating all the time and go to answer it and it
isn't ringing', says Chris. Chris is not the only one who feels so.
Many mobile phone users keep
checking their mobile phones thinking it has vibrated, only to find no one has
called. This sensory hallucination has a name - Phantom Vibration Syndrome
and it is a common phenomenon with people carrying pagers or cell
phones kept on 'vibrate' mode.
PVS is also called 'ringxiety'
most probably because this syndrome is not limited to phones in 'vibrate' mode
but include ring tones as well. So much so, Phantom Vibration Syndrome has been
named the Macquarie Dictionary's Word for the Year 2012.
Studies are limited in this area since it is a relatively
new phenomenon, so scientists are yet to find out what factors may increase the
probability of experiencing phantom vibrations or which methods may be
effective in dispelling them.
Mobile phones, suggest
psychologists, are now recognized as a form of self-expressive identity
. The younger generations of mobile phone
users personalize their phones to express their identity by decorating their
phones and having unique ring-tones.
Secondly, many young people
believe use of mobile phones enhances
by allowing them to remain in contact with friends and
peers at all times. They report feeling loved and valued when they receive
contact on their mobile phone. Thus, validation from others sort of enhances
feelings of self-worth in these people.
Research has shown that people
who receive validation from others via their mobile phone become over-involved
with their mobile phone in a manner similar to an addictive pattern of
A survey conducted by Michael B Rothberg
and his colleagues suggest that nearly 70 percent of the surveyed medical
students and house staff in hospitals experienced phantom vibrations in their
cell phones or pagers, and the perceptions were most common among those who
used it most often or carried the device in a breast pocket. For some of them,
however, changing the location of the device stopped these imaginary
So, how does it happen? Researchers believe
that phantom vibration syndrome may result from a misinterpretation of incoming
sensory signals by the brain. 'In order to deal with the overwhelming
amount of sensory input, the brain applies filters based on what it expects to
find. In the case of phantom vibrations, because the brain is anticipating a
call, it misinterprets sensory input'.
The actual stimulus for this sensation
could be the pressure from clothing, muscle contractions, or other sensory
But it is still not known why some experience PVS
while others don't or why some body locations are more PVS-prone than others.
What is obvious is that younger generations are more susceptible to PVS. One
theory is that neural plasticity
(the brain's ability to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections) of
younger people makes them more susceptible to imagine vibrations.
According to neuroscientists, plasticity in the
brain is at its peak in the growing and learning individuals. Communication
between nerve cells changes in response to brain activity generated by new and
repeated experiences, in this case, ringing or vibrating of phones. It is very
much like the new mothers who constantly imagine they hear their babies crying.
In the same way young people addicted to mobile phones think their phone is
vibrating or ringing as their brain becomes conditioned to respond to a phone
ring or vibration.
Neurological problem or not, maybe in the near
future, when phantom vibration syndrome is better understood, there will be a
cure for this condition.
Wait, is that my phone vibrating! Nope.