You felt the buzz, didn’t you? You know you did — you’re sure of it. But when you grabbed your phone there was no emoji or missed call on the screen. Weird.
If you’re one of the 79 percent of Americans who uses text messaging, then this has likely happened to you at least once. Called Phantom Vibration Syndrome, it’s another strange symptom of the digital age. And a recent study suggests that there is a certain type of person most likely to experience this phenomenon: Mainly, those who have anxiety about their friendships.
A team of researchers at the University of Michigan School of Public Health tested to see whether people with higher attachment anxiety (those who constantly crave reassurance from their friends) were more likely to feel phantom buzzes. Conversely, they wanted to see whether people with attachment avoidance (those who purposely go out of their way to avoid social intimacy) were less likely to experience this feeling.
The team gathered 411 University of Michigan students who had either attachment anxiety or attachment avoidance and had them fill out surveys about how frequently their phones went ghostly on them. As expected, those with attachment anxiety were much more likely to report feeling phantom vibrations, rings and notifications. (Vibrations were the most frequent, with rings and notifications reported to a lesser extent).Of course, a relationship between anxiety and excessive cell phone use is nothing new. But the phenomenon surrounding Phantom Vibration Syndrome, or as the researchers call it — “ringxiety” — is still a relatively new topic for research, study author Daniel Kruger of the UM School of Public Health tells Van Winkle’s.
“Social scientists are always catching up with the latest technology … it would be good to have a more thorough psychological profile to see which aspects best predict phantom cell phone experiences,” Kruger says.
There's some research that already explores the issue. Last year, a group of scientists at the Dow International Medical School explored a possible relationship between sleep disturbances, anxiety and Phantom Vibration Syndrome. More than 100 medical students were surveyed about their sleep habits; 93 percent said they use their phone before going to sleep, and 59 percent said they wake up during the night when they hear their phone ringing.
Nearly all responders said they have experienced Phantom Vibration Syndrome at some point during their lives.
Although the study authors do not state that sleep loss causes Phantom Vibration Syndrome, it is not a stretch to say that sleep loss exacerbates the syndrome. Afterall, sleep loss is linked to anxiety, so if a person hasn’t been catching enough shuteye, well, there is a chance that their anxious tendencies will make them more likely to experience “ringxiety.”
Ultimately, most people ignore phantom vibrations as a minor nuisance. But truthfully, they could be a sign of underlying issues with our friendships. Now that’s something worth examining.