Your Phone is Ringing


phantom buzzing.jpgYour phone is ringing and you frantically pat your pants pockets down to find it. You are going to miss this phone call and desperately need to see the new text messages that you have received, only your phone is not in the pocket of your pants. Terrified, you check your bag. You scramble through all five compartments and your cell phone isn't there. You opt to dump the contents of your bag onto the table. You sort through snotty old tissue and receipts from shopping trips you made months ago...Still not there...Then you remember... You put your phone in the pocket of your winter jacket. Relieved, you toss your bag over your head and decide to clean up the mess you made later. You take out your phone with a smile and head to the living room to sit on the couch comfortably and respond to all of the notifications you have. You kick your feet up, and eagerly type in your password....But there's nothing. No text messages, no missed phone calls and no voicemails. Your phone was NOT ringing.

PHANTOM BUZZING. How many of us have been in situations where we think our phone has vibrated but it hasn't? I have and this has happened to me on more than one occasion. Like many of you, I am addicted to my cell phone. Heck, the thing might as well be crazy glued to my palm. Up until recently, I didn't know there was an actual term for the ghostly sensations we feel when we think our phones are ringing. I decided to look into what makes people experience phantom buzzing. Are we addicted to technology or absolutely delusional?

Researchers have come up with several explanations as to why we experience phantom buzzing. To keep you on track, the ones I will mention are as follows:

1. Extraversion and Neuroticism

2. Reward

3. The Phantom Limb

According to a study done by Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne, avid cell phone users experience these phantom vibrations more than those who use their cell phone less. I agree with this conclusion. To apply this example to myself, I can accurately say that my twenty-one year old sister and I experience phantom vibrations frequently. When I spoke to my mother she said that this has never happened to her. My mother is not big on technology and her cell phone is usually not on her person, but in her purse. My sister and I carry our cell phones in our bags, pockets and hands.

In addition, many people prefer to use smart phones because of their occupations. Smart phones have a variety of functions that place all of someone's necessities in one. Contacts, to-do lists, and emails can be accessed on these tiny devices. People use their personal computers less and refer to their phones a lot more. Teenagers also have smart phones because we of course want to be updated with the latest technology and think smart phones are cool. Teenagers and Smart Phone Users (Android, Blackberry, iPhone) are more likely to experience phantom buzzing.

Indiana U's study also attributes two personality traits that relate to phantom buzzing. Those two personality traits are extraversion and neuroticism. Extraverts check their phones a lot because keeping in touch with their friends is a large part of their lives. Neurotics on the other hand, may not receive many text messages but care a lot about what they say.

I would call myself an extravert. Since I am away at school, keeping in touch with my friends back home and my friends who are also away at school is very important to me. I really want to maintain the friendships that I have established. I believe that many of us are extraverts as well because texting is the main way we keep in contact with one another. No one makes phone calls, visits each other or sends letters in the mail. Although this may cause many of our social skills to deteriorate, we resort to texting because we think it is more convenient than other methods of communicating.

Researchers have also related phantom buzzing to the idea of reward. Jon Kaas, a professor of psychiatry discusses particular studies done on rats. He states that other researchers have found that rats that are rewarded after pressing a lever will press the lever more frequently.

This parallels our class discussion on September 4th. We learned about rats being placed in a water maze. After first being placed in the maze, the rats scattered around a lot until they found the path. After being placed in the water more frequently, they found the path quicker, and after were able to find the path immediately.

Similar to the way that the rats were able to find the path, or knew that they would be rewarded after pulling the lever, we think we are able to predict when we will receive a message and we feel a sense of reward when we do. The fact that we feel rewarded when we receive texts messages makes us check our phones more often.

I can definitely relate to this. I am always on my cell phone. Even when I don't have any messages or missed calls I find something to do. I read status updates on social networks and even read old text messages as I await the arrival of new ones. Many people do this as well. They fumble around with the applications and games on their phones as they await notifications they can respond to.

Kaas also notes that "People have gotten so good at detecting vibrations that they respond to false positives." We have become familiar with this term in our studies. A false positive is an incorrect conclusion. Nothing is happening, but we think it is/results show something is. We seek reward so we train our brains to detect the vibrations and signals our cell phones give us. The more often we do this the better we get at it, similar to the rats being able to immediately find their path in the water maze.


Dr. William Barr, chief of neuropsychology at New York University states "If you use your phone a lot, it becomes a part of you." Many of us feel this way. We are distraught when we lose our phones and when we are without them for a while.

The somatosensory cortex contains nerves that process information related to touch. This cortex is what allows amputees to still feel sensations in limbs that aren't there. Barr relates this to us avid cell phone users that feel vibrations that haven't actually occurred. "Cell phones enter the neuromatrix of the body...You can feel them, you can sense them, but they aren't really there."

So is there a legitimate explanation for phantom buzzing or are we delusional? Not much research has been done on the topic and in science you can never be 100% certain. I however believe that the arguments presented are reasonably sound. The technology-savvy population, myself included is addicted to cell-phones. We want the newest gadgets and we become so attached to what cell phones can do. Even when we don't have any notifications on our cell phones we think we do because we use our cell phones so frequently.

Your cell phone is ringing....Oh no. It's not!


The post caught my attention because I feel the phantom buzzing all the time. So far I have beilieved that when I thought my phone was ringing, I was simply feeling the vibrations of something else e.g. If I'm on a bus I assume the bus is vibrating etc. I'd be interested to see if you or any other reader thinks that this is plausible, if so then some of the cases under research hear could be attributed to something beside the phantom buzzzing.
Having read your post I will keep a keener eye on when I feel the buzzing to see if my 'random vibration theory' has been wrong all along.

I AM A VICTIM OF PHANTOM BUZZING. This article was extremely informative for me because as of five minutes ago I've been completely unaware of why this happens. I sit there in my room and swear I heard my phone vibrate on my desk, so I walk over to check, and there's nothing new. I think I'm definitely an extravert because I'm constantly texting friends and family that I'm away from so that I don't miss out on anything going on in their lives. I'm also constantly tweeting, instagramming, and snapchatting my friends so I'm always expecting replies from friends. I think it's a funny comparison to the phantom limb thing because it really is somewhat like that. I'd be interested in also seeing how many people don't feel their phones vibrate though because I occasionally look at my phone just to realize I've missed multiple messages/calls without hearing/feeling a thing. It can be right in my pocket yet I've somehow been too distracted or zoned out to notice. Cell phones are a mystery to me, but I don't know what I would do without mine!

I thought I was the only one haha. Even though we're not really supposed to just say we like a post I have to say I really enjoyed this one.

Have you ever experienced the phenomena where you're just about to text a friend and as you look at your phone thinking about them they send one to you? (or vice versa) I wonder if that has anything to do with phantom ringing/feeling?

I always feel a slight vibration on my thigh right where my phone usually is even when my phone isn't ringing. Heck, I even feel it when my phone isn't even in my pocket. I always felt so awkward when I would pull out my phone and see that there was nothing there. I am glad to know that this happens to a lot of other people as well. I have become better at realizing if these vibrations are just caused by my surroundings or if they are actually my phone vibrating. But regardless, it is very annoying when I feel that little vibration only to realize that nobody has texted or called me.

Your assumption is one that researcher Larry Rosen has concluded! Before looking up information about phantom buzzing, I never believed I felt the vibration from something other than my phone. I always just assumed my phone vibrated and I received a notification that just never popped up on my screen.(I didn't, but sometimes having an iPhone makes you feel that way.) I came across an article that describes Larry Rosen's belief that another sensation, such as something brushing up against your leg can feel like a phone vibration. All in all, the article relates to the overarching theme that technology has an immense impact on humans in society.

Here is the link !

I can relate to you in the sense that I am always expecting notifications on my phone. Whenever I wake up in the morning, or I am away from my phone for a couple of hours I expect to have tons of text messages, and missed phone calls waiting for me. This goes back to the idea of the phantom limb: our phones have become a part of us and we feel vibrations even when we have not received any notifications.

I thought it was really interesting that you brought up the opposing question. Sometimes we feel our cell phones vibrate and we don't have any notifications and sometimes we have several notifications and have not felt a single vibration.

To answer that, I woud personally say that a vibration may go unnoticed because of movement. I know that when I am walking and my phone is in my back pocket, a lot of the time I won't notice my phone has rang or vibrated until I pull my phone out and check.

I would say that the answer to your question is "great minds think alike," but in actuality great minds think alone !

I personally don't think this has anything to do with phantom buzzing itself, but I think it relates greatly to two things I mentioned in the blog post. That is, a sense of reward when we receive text messages and the extravert trait.

You may opt to text your friend because you don't have any notifications coming in on your phone, so you spark up conversations to receive notifications in order to feel that sense of reward. In addition, both of you could carry the extravert trait where it is really important for you both to keep in contact with family and close friends.

Agree, Disagree, New thoughts?

Oh yeah ! You are definitely not alone. This happens to a large majority of people with cell phones and some have even gone as far as calling feeling these vibrations a SYNDROME !

"Phantom Vibration Syndrome"

An interesting article I came across was written by Martin Lindstrom.

Lindstrom compares the idea of phantom buzzing to smoking. He conducted a study and the results showed that once a smoker sees another smoker lighting a cigarette, he/she is convinced to light a cigarette based on the "mirror neurons" in the brain.

He goes further and relates this to a social outting. Have you ever been out with your friends and everyone is casually talking. Then, one person checks their phone and everyone else at the table gradually starts checking theirs too? Think about that !

Here is the link to the article

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