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If you occasionally think your phone is vibrating or ringing when it's actually not, you are among the 80 percent of people who make the same mistake. But this error in perception is anything but an impending sign of madness caused by digital culture, say psychologists. "We can assume that people like to notice when their phone is ringing, and that most people hate missing a call. This means their perceptual systems have adjusted their bias to a level that makes misses unlikely. The unavoidable cost is a raised likelihood of false alarms – of phantom phone vibrations." People most likely to experience phantom phone vibrations also scored highest on a novelty-seeking personality test, i.e. they placed the highest cost on missing an exciting new phone call.

What's the Big Idea?

We, as humans, are perceptual systems that respond to our environment much like an automatic door at the supermarket or a daffodil waiting to bloom. All such systems operate using a concept psychologists call Signal Detection Theory which has two principle characteristics: sensitivity to the surrounding environment and a bias toward how accurate its own perceptions are. "The more sensitive a system is the better, because it is more able to discriminate between true states of the world. [Think of a smoke detector.] But bias doesn't have an obvious optimum. The appropriate level of bias depends on the relative costs and benefits of different matches and mismatches."

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Read it at BBC Future