Did you ever feel your phone vibrating in the pocket where you usually keep it even though you left the device at home? You probably thought that you were going crazy. And those with a smartwatch often have the same experience; a familiar vibration that cannot be traced to an incoming call or notification. This has become such a common occurrence that according to the Wall Street Journal, mental-health experts have a name for it: phantom phone syndrome.
Those suffering from this ailment feel their devices vibrate even when they don't. Michelle Drouin, a psychologist at Purdue University Fort Wayne has not only studied this phenomena, she has felt these phantom vibrations herself. "This could really be categorized as a hallucination. You’re feeling something…that doesn’t really exist," she says. Despite the fancy title and the fact that it has been studied, phantom phone syndrome is not a mental disorder. Leaving your phone at home and taking off a smartwatch will stop the false vibrations over time.
Without the devices in your pocket or on your wrist, you're less likely to anticipate the vibrations; some cite this anticipation as the cause of the syndrome. Dr. Drouin states that "The longer you’re away from your device, the more likely you won’t experience these false signals." The doctor also wonders if what people are feeling could be a muscle twitch that they are misinterpreting. "Maybe the muscle spasm they always experienced, but because now it’s connected to this really important social signal, you’re more attentive to it," the psychologist says.
Some researchers connect phantom phone syndrome to the fear of missing out on the latest news
Researchers who have studied phantom phone syndrome say that it is related to FOMO or fear of missing out. This is a feeling people get that explains why social-media sites are so popular. Sometimes referred to as "ringxiety," "vibranxiety," or "FauxCellArm," the syndrome was tested at a University in Iran back in 2017. The results? Half of the school's medical science students felt phantom phone vibrations or heard their phone ringing when it didn't.
Another person who has researched and felt the phenomenon himself is Daniel Kruger, a University of Michigan social psychologist. Kruger thinks that those who are more prone to feeling the phantom vibrations are having issues with the status of their relationships. He also notes that "The phone companies and manufacturers say this doesn’t have to do with their hardware or software."
Celeste Labedz, a 25-year-old geophysics graduate student at the California Institute of Technology, keeps her Pixel handset in her back pocket and she admits to feeling phantom vibrations all day long. "It’s the worst. It’s annoying because I think I’m popular, and I’m getting messages, but I’m not." But feeling these vibrations isn't related to a desire to be popular. In fact, a philosopher by the name of Robert Rosenberger, who teaches at the Georgia Institute of Technology, says that these feelings are just part of the normal experience of owning a phone. "I had written it off as something that was weird and specific to me, but it’s normal," Rosenberger points out. He has felt that familiar buzz even when his handset was on the other side of a room. He calls the sensation unsettling, but it helps him to know that his friends experience the very same feelings.
There could be a connection between being high-strung and feeling the fake vibrations. Carnegie Mellon University computer science professor Zachary Lipton feels the vibrations even when he isn't carrying his phone. He believes that what he is feeling is linked to his anxiety. "You realize you’re conditioned like some post-trauma, battered animal…It’s horrible."
So the next time that you feel your phone vibrate, reach for it, and realize that you don't even have the device on you, there is no need to panic; you're certainly not the only one who has phantom phone syndrome. You can choose to ignore the feelings, get a laugh out of them, or disconnect from your phone for a few days.