Ever felt your phone buzz in your pocket, then pulled it out to find no text, no call, no notification? You might be experiencing ‘phantom vibration syndrome’– and you’re not alone. According to one study, 9 out of 10 undergraduates said they had experienced the phenomenon in the last week or month.
Scientists aren’t exactly sure why these tactile hallucinations happen to so many of us. One leading theory is that our excessive smartphone use, and our creeping sense that we should be constantly available, have conditioned our brains to overinterpret sensations such as clothing moving against our skin. On the plus side, most people don’t find the phantom signals bothersome.
- I can’t stop checking my phone. What can I do to lessen its grip on me?
- Are hackers monitoring me through my phone?
- Is there any point turning my phone to ‘flight mode’ on a plane?
- How does a smartphone ‘read’ my fingerprint?
Asked by: Andy Mann, Birmingham
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Ceri Perkins is a New York City-based writer and editor who covers the environment, science, nature and human behaviour. As a freelancer, she has lived around the world, from Madrid to the Scottish Highlands. Before going freelance, Ceri was based in Geneva, Switzerland, as a staff writer/editor at CERN, home of the Large Hadron Collider. Later, she was News Editor at NYC-based magazine Spectrum, where she edited news and opinion stories about the neuroscience and genetic underpinnings of autism. In her spare time, Ceri is typically either outdoors in nature or curled up inside with a stack of books and a pile of things to make or fix. She holds a Bachelor’s in Atmospheric Science, a Master's in Science Communication, and you can read her work in TED Ideas, BBC Earth, The Guardian, Physics World, New Scientist, and more.