Here's What Those Phantom Phone Vibrations Really Mean

And why they might be bad for your health. 

Photo by bombuscreative/Getty Images

You think you hear your cell phone ring or vibrate, only to pick it up and realize no one was calling. Until recently, little was known about what causes these phantom notifications (which have been coined "ringxiety"), but the results of a new study prove it might be linked to relationship insecurity.

The study, which was conducted by the University of Michigan and published in the journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, found that people who seek constant reassurance from their partner were more likely to experience phantom phone vibrations and notifications.

To determine whether ringxiety was linked to psychological attributes, an online survey was given to 168 undergraduate students, all of whom regularly use a mobile phone. The survey began with a series of brief personality tests, including one that assessed attachment anxiety (concerns about feelings not being mutual, or being abandoned) and attachment avoidance (keeping distance in relationships).

Students were then asked whether they experienced phantom ringing, phantom vibrations, and/or phantom notifications (seeing an image on the screen)—and, if yes, how often they experienced them. Respondents were then presented with a list of scenarios and asked to indicate when they were most likely to experience the phantom notifications: “are expecting a call/message,” “cannot respond (because you are driving, in class, etc.), "were on your phone recently,” or “are concerned about something that you might get a call/message about.”

How the participants scored on the attachment anxiety portion of the survey directly correlated to how frequently they experienced ringxiety. Specifically, participants with higher scores in attachment anxiety experienced phantom ringing and notifications more frequently, and were more likely to experience them when they were expecting a call, or when they were concerned about something they might get a call about. Those who scored high in attachment avoidance, however, were less likely to experience ringxiety when expecting a call.

Eighty-two percent of participants said they experience phantom vibrations, making it the most common form of ringxiety. Fifty percent experienced phantom notifications, and 45 percent experienced phantom ringing. These high percentages could be cause for concern due to the potentially negative health benefits of ringxiety: "There is a growing awareness that ringxiety may result in both immediate and longer negative health effects, including headache, stress, and sleep disturbances," Brenda K. Wiederhold, editor-in-chief of the Interactive Media Institute, said in a statement.

Sound familiar? Previous research has linked smartphone use to poor health and loss of sleep. To finally break free from your cell phone addiction, try these three expert tips.