Phantom Vibration Syndrome

· October 7, 2018

Phantom vibration syndrome is one irrefutable example of how technology has invaded the human psyche. Technological devices are no longer just external objects that you access when you need them. Little by little, they have become almost part of our bodies. 

Phantom vibration syndrome is the feeling that your cell phone is vibrating when it isn’t. It can happen anytime, and it seems completely real. To an individual with phantom vibration syndrome, it seems impossible that the vibration was only a tactile hallucination.

“And one day the mind leaps from imagination to hallucination, and the congregant hears God, sees God.”

-Oliver Sacks-

Experts estimate that up to 80% of the population has experienced phantom vibration syndrome. That being said, psychologists don’t consider it a pathology in and of itself. If this particular symptom is accompanied by other worrisome behavioral patterns like an excessive dependence on or obsession with technology, it can be more serious.

Causes of phantom vibration syndrome

The brain reacts to sensory stimulants. When it perceives a stimulus, the senses send the corresponding signals and the brain responds. If you hear your doorbell, for example, in a few seconds the brain decodes the signal and understands that someone is at your door. It’s a classic case of stimulus-response.


Cell phone affecting the brain.

So why does phantom vibration syndrome happen? Why does the brain perceive and react to a non-existent stimulus? Everything seems to indicate that it’s due to a kind of anticipation of a desired outcome. The stimulus you desire is a call or some kind of communication. Sometimes you want it so bad that your senses take it upon themselves to produce it artificially.

There’s a part of you that would hate to miss a call you’re expecting. There are also people who’re just “hyper-connected” and practically live on their cell phones. Phantom vibration syndrome, in this case, corresponds to a constant state of expectation that comes from the desire to “stay connected”.

It’s worth noting that most people only experience this phantom vibration at certain times in their lives. It might happen, for example, at their most emotionally vulnerable moments. It might also happen when they’re especially stressed or have some kind of suppressed anxiety.

Problems associated with this syndrome

Researchers at the University of Michigan believe that phantom vibration syndrome might not be as innocuous as it seems. They did an experiment with 400 volunteers, all of them students. The goal of the study was to establish that there’s a relationship between phantom vibration syndrome and attachment anxiety.

A woman in bed with her cell phone.

The results of the experiment confirmed their suspicions. They proved that people with attachment anxiety were more likely to experience phantom vibration syndrome. Attachment anxiety is characterized by the constant need for affirmation from others.

Similarly, a Dow International Medical College study established another interesting link. They concluded that people struggling with insomnia were more likely to experience vibration hallucinations. The common factor here is anxiety.

When should you worry?

In general terms, phantom vibration syndrome isn’t particularly worrisome. It usually is just a sign of increasing dependence on technology. In certain circumstances, when psychological defenses are low, these kinds of false perceptions tend to crop up. Moreover, the individual won’t have these hallucinations most of the time.

Certain professions lend themselves more to this syndrome. Health professionals, people with high-risk jobs, and people with a lot of responsibility at work feel phantom vibrations more often. In these cases, psychologists consider it an adaptive behavior. These people have to be constantly alert to do their jobs well. That’s why it isn’t surprising that they have these types of hallucinations.

Researchers also discovered that most people don’t pay much attention to these experiences. They think that it’s an insignificant mistake. They also think it isn’t something that affects their mood or causes problems.

A woman with a cell phone.

So, when should you worry about phantom vibration syndrome? It’s only a problem if you’re also experiencing frequent anxiety. You should also worry if these “false alarms” cause disappointment or anger. In these cases, it’s important to reflect and figure out what’s behind these false perceptions.