Phantom Cell Vibrations Are More Likely To Show Up In Certain People, Studies Show, So Here's Why You Might Experience "Ringxiety"
If you own a smartphone — and it's safe to say that's true of most people these days — you're probably all too familiar with phantom cell vibrations. Also known as "ringxiety" or "fauxcellarm," the term refers to the feeling that your phone is vibrating or ringing; when you check it, however, there's nary a notification to be seen. Of course, your reaction to this realization may vary — it could be a blow to the ego, cause for relief, or a little of both — but the phenomenon itself is surprisingly common. According to some studies, more than two-thirds of smartphone users report experiencing phantom vibrations, and there's evidence that this number only gets higher in younger populations.
As the Science of Us pointed out this week, though, age is hardly the only predictor of phantom vibrations. Although researchers believe that generation certainly plays a role — technology tends to play a more significant role in young people's lives — a 2012 study surveying nearly 300 undergraduate students also showed that certain personality traits affect the likelihood of hearing false notifications. According to the study, people with higher attachment anxiety, aka fear of abandonment, were more likely to report phantom vibrations, especially when they were expecting a call or text. The study's design couldn't establish a causal relationship, but it's not hard to see how fear of abandonment could affect how highly attuned you are to your phone.
In contrast, people with higher attachment avoidance (basically, commitment-phobes) were less likely to feel phantom notifications, especially when they were expecting a call. People with high levels of conscientiousness were less likely to report phantom vibrations as well.
Clearly, some people experience phantom vibrations more often than others — but is this a bad thing? According to the 2012 study, it depends on the person. The vast majority of those surveyed said they didn't mind phantom vibrations, although people who were more emotionally dependent on their phones were more likely to report being bothered by a false alarm. Researchers even noted in their paper that people cared so little about the phenomenon that interventions would be totally pointless.
In short, phantom vibrations aren't anything to get worked up over; a similar phenomenon was common back in the days of pagers. However, as always, moderation is key here. If being unable to check your phone causes anxiety, you may want to take a step back. As psychologist Larry Rosen explained to NPR in 2013, "I'm not saying that [checking your phone] is an obsession, but I'm saying that it could turn into one, very easily."
Now if you'll excuse me, I desperately need to check my phone. I'm pretty sure I heard it going off — unless it was a false alarm.
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