University research discovers link between phantom phone calls and cell phone dependency

Sunday, January 29, 2017 - 3:03pm

If you check your phone thinking you have received a text message or email, only to discover no notification is there, you may be experiencing an eerie — but scientifically proven — phantom phone vibration.

A new study from the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research recently discovered a link between phantom cell phone experiences and cell phone dependency.

Phantom phone calls and texts, according to University researcher Daniel Kruger, are the experiences of receiving notifications that are not actually there. These experiences could be the sensation of feeling a vibration, hearing a ringer or other indications of an incoming message.

Kruger — who has previously conducted research on the connection between phantom phone vibrations and attachment anxiety — recruited 766 college students, of whom 384 were women and 382 were men. After completing a personality test, the participants indicated whether or not they had ever experienced a phantom phone call or text message.

Participants then responded to the Mobile Phone Problem Use Scale, a series of questions asking whether or not the students felt that their moods depended on cell phone interactions. Students were asked whether they became anxious when they couldn’t check their phones and if they constantly thought about the next time they could check their phones. These questions were viewed as indicators of cell phone dependency.

Kruger said he was interested in exploring the idea that an individual can be addicted to technology the same way you can be addicted to a substance. He noticed that while this theory was attracting a lot of media attention, there hadn’t been much actual research.

“It’s happened to me a few times, mostly when I can’t get to my phone,” Kruger said. “A couple of times I was driving with my phone in my pocket, I thought I felt it buzz, but there was no message when I stopped and was able to check it.”

According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine, “addiction is characterized by an inability to consistently abstain, impairment in behavioral control, craving, diminished recognition of significant problems with one’s behaviors and interpersonal relationships, and a dysfunctional emotional response.”

The experiment found that those who experienced aspects of cell phone dependency reported a higher frequency of the phantom experiences. The group with the highest symptoms of cell phone dependency were young women, younger individuals and those with lower emotional stability.

Kruger hypothesized women were hypersensitive to the stimuli that leads to the reward. Since there is a positive “reward” associated with receiving a text message, people are hypersensitive to the signals that indicate this, producing the phantom buzzing.

LSA sophomore Katie Stewart agreed with the results, even coining her own term for the sensation.

“It’s called textpectation,” Stewart wrote in an email. “I don't really think textpectation is a problem. It's not affecting or inhibiting anything in academics or social life, but it just probably reflects the fact that our generation has incorporated phones into our mentality and psychology if we're having phantom feelings.”

Kruger hoped his findings would add information to the argument around cell phone dependency as an addiction. Whether or not cell phone dependency is considered an addiction, Kruger believes it is an issue that needs to be addressed.

“Technology is developing faster than human psychology can evolve,” Kruger said, noting this increases the difficulty of trying to balance the virtual world with the real world and the danger of technological relationships interfering with real-world relationships.

Engineering freshman Jordan Page also admitted to experiencing phantom messages at a frequency that is almost never-ending.

“When my phone is on vibrate, I feel like I’m always checking it,” she said, adding she might have a cell phone addiction.