good vibrations?

http://www.bmj.com/content/341/bmj.c6914

Now here’s another interesting article I stumbled across awhile back. I generally get annoyed by small studies, design flaws, and, basically, the stuff that gets listed in the “limitations” section of this article. However, in this case, I would unscientifically and anecdotally opine that this study probably really does serve as a nice little example of something that quite commonly occurs in the “normal population.”

That something, in case you didn’t follow the link first, is hallucinations, by the way. More specifically, it’s hallucinations that occur in people who are presumably not psychotic/mentally ill/on drugs/otherwise impaired. (I shall continue to be unscientific and therefore not get sidetracked on a discussion and/or snarkery regarding the typical sanity of people who work in the medical field, or other such rambles.)

Full disclosure (I debated admitting this, but I think it’s relevant to understanding my perspective, and there’s no way it won’t be again if I keep at this blog long enough- it significantly impacts what I geek out on): I work in the mental health field.

“Phantom vibrations” and/or “phantom ringtones” are about as socially-acceptable as hallucinations get, and that’s because they’re small, they’re benign, and they’re *common.* From what I’ve seen on the job (biased sample, but, so is every sample you’ll ever encounter), hallucinations in general are a more common occurrence than most people realize, and people can seem much more “normal” than you expect, and still experience them. They’re also very, very stigmatized, at least in American culture. This stigma is a large part of why, in my field, it’s not uncommon for someone who experiences hallucinations or psychotic symptoms to lie about it. (How can you tell if it’s a lie, you ask? The professionals working with these people either find out after trust has been established, or take an educated guess based on the individual’s responses to internal stimuli.)

What I often hear, when I ask if a person sometimes hears or sees things that other people don’t see (and it is in fact a standard part of my job to ask, whether or not I suspect psychotic symptoms are present), is: “I’m not schizophrenic.” Not “yes,” not “no,” but an assurance that they don’t have a diagnosis that they associate with straightjackets and padded rooms and the Thorazine shuffle. Which is, of course, the immediate cultural association we have when it comes to seeing things, hearing things, etc. etc. It’s a negative one, and it’s an inaccurate one. Sometimes, I only get an accurate answer after I explain that sometimes people’s brains will “misfire” or “glitch,” or things will start to work differently due to intense stress, or an extreme mood episode. Then, suddenly, the answer may become “Well, yes, sometimes.” It’s rarely distinct voices. It’s often mumbles.

It is also, for some reason, often *cats,* specifically (as visual hallucinations), which I have my own theories on (they’re small, quick, and often exist largely as blurs out of the corners of their owner’s eyes- until they want to be fed, anyway).

Sometimes it’s clinically significant. Honestly, sometimes it isn’t. Or, at least, doesn’t become a priority.

When I ask about hallucinations, phantom vibrations and phantom ringtones basically never get mentioned.

Because we, as a society, are so used to having little devices signal us at a moment’s notice that it is time to push a button and interact with a disembodied voice, that receiving imaginary signals to do so is apparently something that happens to *most of us* at some time or other.

EXTRA CREDIT: http://www.frontiersin.org/Human_Neuroscience/10.3389/fnhum.2013.00144/abstract

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