At least a few times a day, I find myself lurching for my vibrating phone when it is not in fact vibrating. Sometimes there is an obvious explanation: I was feeling someone else's phone buzzing or the fabric of my jeans rubbed together to create a friction-induced tremor. Other times it's clear that it's all in my head, a tactile hallucination of my constantly buzzing tech appendage.
This sensation has a name: Phantom Vibration Syndrome. And new research suggests that it's not just the result of our smartphone addictions. It's more common among people who have anxiety about their friendships.
Researchers at the University of Michigan tested the prevalence of what they called "ringxiety" by surveying 411 students who displayed traits of either attachment anxiety ("please like me!") or attachment avoidance ("please give me space!") about how often their phones went phantom.
Those with attachment anxiety were far more likely to report feeling as though their phones had been taken over by a ghost. Other studies have suggested that when anticipating a phone call, the cerebral cortex can misinterpret other sensory input, like your jeans rubbing together, as a phone vibration or ring tone. So that phantom buzzing could be a signal from the brain that you are feeling unconfident about your relationships—leading you to constantly imagine reasons to check if your friend finally responded to your text.
But don't worry. You're not alone in your neurosis. Back in 2014, another set of researchers tackled the topic of phantom buzzing and found that nearly everyone they spoke to had experienced it at some point in their lives. They found a possible link between sleep disturbances, anxiety and Phantom Vibration Syndrome.
So next time you feel that phantom buzz, it might be worth considering what's causing you to feel all those fake vibrations in the first place. Or, you know, maybe you really do just need a break from your phone.