Ringxiety Puts Cell Phone Users on Edge

College Students Plagued by Phantom Ringing


Published: October 11, 2007

Embarrassing moments in public are a part of life. We have all experienced these events, whether it be tripping on the sidewalk or walking into a screen that we think is an open door. In today’s technologically advanced society, embarrassing moments can sometimes be more complicated than tripping up the stairs. For instance, what about those times when you take out your cell phone because you think it’s ringing and discover that all you can see is the time display? Have no fear—this is a common occurrence. The phenomenon known as “phantom ringing” happens to tons of people and is not a sign of mental instability, it has actually been researched.

Ringxiety strikes as a Fordham student, interrupted by imagined cell phone calls, goes through her busy daily routine. (Aubrey Stallard Photo Illustration/The Observer)

David Laramie, alumnus of the California School of Professional Psychology at Alliant International University, Los Angeles, conducted a 320-person online study to determine how many people have experienced mistakenly hearing or feeling his/her cell phone ringing when, in fact, it is not.

Laramie found that over two- thirds of those who participated in the study have experienced phantom ringing. “It appears to be a normal aspect of owning a phone,” said Laramie. After he and his friends experienced this phenomenon, Laramie decided to include this study in his dissertation on cell phones.

“I had participants fill out, online, a series of instruments and questionnaires as part of a larger study. The phantom line of research comes from the questions inquiring whether they had heard or felt their phone ring when they were mistaken and it had not,” Laramie said.

Phantom ringing does not occur because people are too dependent on cell phones, but “phantom rings appear to simply be a consequence of owning and using a phone,” said Laramie.

According to a recent study, Psych Central reported that of 2,500 participants, the average respondent made three and a half voice calls each day and sent nine text messages. They spent an average of one hour on the phone every day, which included 35 minutes of text messaging. These figures, which reflect heavy cell phone usage, create enhanced opportunities for phantom ringing to creep up on the common person.

Although not familiar with Laramie’s study, Mark Mattson, assistant professor and associate chair of psychology at Fordham said, “According to Signal Detection Theory, we collect information about a stimulus, then make a decision about whether it was present or absent. There is always noise, with or without the signal. Particularly if a person is expecting a stimulus, they may make a false alarm: say there was a stimulus when there was only noise.”

The idea of Signal Detection Theory helps explain some of the experiences Fordham students have had with phantom ringing.

Catherine Leib, FCLC ’08, said, “I keep my cell phone in my back pocket sometimes, and if I am waiting for a phone call to come through I feel like it is vibrating all the time.Then, when it is vibrating, sometimes I can’t feel it. It really is a funny thing.”

Andrew Vacca, FCLC ’11, also claims to have experienced phantom ringing. “Mostly at work, though, when I’m hoping for someone to call and distract me,” Vacca said. “But whenever I keep my phone in my pants pocket, I can feel it vibrate, and quick pull it out to see who it was. But it’s never anyone.”

During class, Bonnie Torre, FCLC ’11, would think she felt her phone vibrating in her pocket and take it out only to notice there was no call or text. “Also, sometimes at home, I’ll be downstairs and I think I hear my phone ringing upstairs, so I’ll run all the way up to my room to get it to find that it hadn’t been ringing at all,” Torre said.

The next time you think you hear your cell phone ringing or vibrating in your back pocket, think twice about checking it. Listen for a second ring to avoid publicly advertising your embarrassing bout with phantom ringing. If you do trip up, don’t be mortified. Chances are whoever witnesses your mistake has had their own experiences with phantom ringing.