The professor explains it as thus.Some call it "phantom vibration syndrome." Others prefer "vibranxiety" — the feeling when you answer your vibrating cellphone, only to find it never vibrated at all.
"It started happening about three years ago, when I first got a cellphone," says Canadian Steven Garrity, 28, of Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island. "I'd be sitting on the couch and feel my phone start to vibrate, so I'd reach down and pull it out of my pocket. But the only thing ringing was my thigh."
Though no known studies have analyzed what may cause spontaneous buzzing, anecdotes such as Garrity's ring true with the public.
Spurred by curiosity, Garrity, a Web developer, described the recurring false alarms on his blog. The response was not imaginary: More than 30 cellphone users reported that they, too, experienced phantom vibrations.
"I ended up hearing from a lot of people who said, 'Hey, the exact same thing happens to me,' " Garrity says. "And it was somewhat comforting, because it made me think I wasn't insane, after all."
Makes sense to me. It doesn't happen too often, but I've though my phone was buzzing, only to find that it wasn't.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."
Anyone else get this feeling?