It happens most often when he’s out at night: He’s at a bar, enjoying a beer, standing in the crowd, listening to a band, when his phone will vibrate in his pocket.
But his phone isn’t in his pocket. It’s on the table, or in his car, or at home, or in his hand.
“I always feel a phantom cellphone vibration in one of my leg pockets, even when I’m holding the cellphone,” says David Treviño of Fort Wayne. “It usually happens in public.”
It’s not that the restless ghost of his phone has taken to his haunting his leg, and it doesn’t mean that Treviño is going crazy. In fact, he’s not alone. The issue is common enough that a group of researchers at IPFW studied the phenomenon and found that 89 percent of 290 survey respondents said they feel their phone vibrate when it’s not on their person. The researchers presented their findings in May.
So don’t feel like you’re going bonkers – you’re not alone.
“What we were interested in, aside from looking at the prevalence of phantom vibrations among undergrads, was also if there were any personality traits that would relate to it,” says Michelle Drouin, lead author of the study and assistant professor in psychology.
The two most significant findings, she says, showed that people who were neurotic – who had a tendency to look at things in a negative way and be easily bothered – had an indirect correlation to being bothered by phantom vibrations. They were more likely to be have a strong emotional reaction to their text messages (as in, they get really peeved when their phones act up and they don’t get a text until hours after it was sent), and those with a strong emotional reaction to their text messages were more likely to be bothered by phantom vibrations.
Drouin and her team also found a negative relationship between being bothered by phantom vibrations and conscientiousness. Those who are conscientious – who are good at staying on-task, who are not easily distracted, who are goal-oriented – are less likely to be bothered by phantom vibrations.
Treviño doesn’t consider himself neurotic – he’s too laid-back for that, he says – and thinks he can stay focused enough to be called conscientious.
The problem, luckily, hasn’t plagued him as often as it once did; his new phone uses too much battery when it’s in “vibrate” mode, so he usually has that feature off, which has decreased the frequency of ghost phones going off in his pocket.
Still, when it happens, he sometimes tries to pick up.
“I would reach in my pocket to answer it, even if I knew it wasn’t here,” he says, laughing. “I would still check.”