The human brain is the most fascinating and complex organ in the human body. It is still a mystery to neuroscientists who are keen to unravel the deep mysteries of this fascinating organ. Throughout the history of mankind, humans have experienced and replicated certain things termed as “psychological phenomena.”
These are defined as “brain tricks” that defy scientific explanation and remain a mystery to all. Here is a list of ten psychological phenomena we might have experienced but have never really heard about it before.
1. Phantom Vibration Syndrome: a perception in which one experiences their mobile phone vibrating or ringing when it is not ringing. A whopping 89% of people have experienced this syndrome.
Have you experienced your mobile phone ringing even when it is not ringing? This phenomenon is termed as “phantom vibration syndrome.”
According to a study by researcher Michelle Drouin, nine out of 10 undergraduate students at her college experienced these phantom vibrations. Research suggests that this syndrome arises due to over-involvement with one’s mobile phone.
The vibrations began to manifest themselves within a month after the person possesses a phone. It is suggested that the cerebral cortex confuses or misinterprets other sensory inputs such as muscle contractions, pressure, and other stimuli as phone vibrations or a ringtone.
These human signal-detection issues by the human brain are perceived as an influence of psychological attributes. The researchers have suggested that these vibrations will not cause any harm, but they can be stopped.
According to Rothberg’s survey, medical staff who possessed a pager or a mobile phone were successful in stopping the vibrations. They simply turned the device off from the vibration mode and instead used an audible ringtone.
2. Event Boundary: occurs when we sometimes tend to forget what we needed when we enter a room because of a phenomenon called “event boundary.”
Each one of us has walked into a room only to realize we had forgotten why we are there in the first place. Notre Dame Scientist Gabriel Radvansky has spent close to two decades exploring why this phenomenon occurs.
He conducted an experiment by using three rooms to test participants’ ability to recall memories when they pass from one room to another. He was able to determine that passing through a door to a new room resulted in people forgetting what object they had just carried into the new room.
This underlying brain phenomenon has been attributed to an increased error rate in responding and termed as “event boundary.” It has been determined that the human brain segregates events and associate them to certain environments or a place where they occurred.
When a person moves from one room to the next, the brain works as a file that retrieves all information about the current room and the events that occurred in it.
When a person goes to another room, the focus shifts to the new, current room. The person has trouble recalling what they had intended to do in the now, current room making it hard for a person to recall the task thought of in the prior room.
You can overcome this phenomenon by mumbling the task as you move from one room to another. (source)
3. Spotlight Effect: a phenomenon that makes people significantly overestimate how noticeable their embarrassing behaviors are to others. This effect occurs due to cognitive bias.
Have you ever walked into a room and felt like everyone is watching and judging you? If you have felt that way, you have experienced the “spotlight effect.”
The spotlight effect is a cognitive bias in which an individual thinks they are being continuously observed, noticed, and judged by others. The term was coined and popularized by American psychologists Thomas Gilovich and Kenneth Savitsky.
According to experts, an anchoring-and-adjustment mechanism lays the foundation for the spotlight effect. The effect arises from being extremely self-conscious about what others may think.
The concerned individual suffers from “egocentric bias” which is a tendency to include other peoples’ viewpoints into their own thought process.
Other major factors that contribute to this effect are naïve realism and bias blind spot. This potent combination creates a situation where an individual uses their personal experiences and cognitions to evaluate others.
They also tend to overestimate the extent to which their perceptions are considered to be accurate and accepted by others. To overcome this effect, an individual can focus their attention on others rather than feeling conscious about themselves. (1,2)
4. Earworm: a phenomenon where a catchy piece of music continually repeats through a person’s mind after it is no longer playing.
Are you unable to get a song out of your head and end up singing it for hours on end? This phenomenon is termed “Involuntary Musical Imagery” or “earworms.”
Earworms are a common phenomenon and an example of spontaneous cognition. According to researchers, earworms are usually faster tunes with generic lyrics and catchy tunes.
Moreover, these songs can also be associated with a memory or characteristics that set them apart from others. These earworms are commonly triggered by experiences or involuntary memories.
According to research by James Kellaris, 98% of individuals experience earworms, with women experiencing it more often and longer than men.
The common example of earworms include “Bad Romance”, “Alejandro,” and “Poker Face” by Lady Gaga, “Don’t Stop Believing” by Journey, “Can’t Get You Out Of My Head” by Kylie Minogue, “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen, and “California Gurls” by Katy Perry.
In 2015, research conducted by the School of Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences at the University of Reading in Pennsylvania demonstrated that chewing gum could help by blocking the sub-vocal rehearsal component of auditory short-term memory. (source)
5. Frequency Illusion aka Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon: the phenomenon in which people who have just learned or noticed something start seeing it everywhere.
Imagine having $35,000 to spare and you want to pamper yourself with a new ride from the hard-earned money. Suddenly, your colleague suggests you get a car model that you have never heard before. You showed a heightened interest in that car and start to encounter it everywhere. You are scared that you are imaging things, or is your mind playing tricks on you? According to experts, this phenomenon is called “Baader-Meinhof” or “frequency illusion.”
Baader-Meinhof is a phenomenon where one stumbles upon an obscure piece of information and happen to encounter it often and repeatedly. It is a term similar to “synchronicity” by invoking a feeling of mild surprise and the occurrence of selective attention.
This is a rare event having a one in 1,000 chance of happening. That means this event has a 0.1% likelihood chance of occurring. This makes it easier for a person to imagine themselves facing an unusual event.
The Baader-Meinhof is termed as a fantasy phenomenon whose uniqueness is diluted by science and facts. If you are hearing it for the first time, be on a lookout to see if you encounter this phenomenon repeatedly over the next few days. (source)
6. Semantic Satiation: a psychological phenomenon in which repetition causes a word or phrase to temporarily lose meaning for the listener who then perceives the speech as repeated, meaningless sounds.
Has it ever happened to you that a perfectly normal word, when being repeated over and over again, suddenly sounds weird and loses its meaning?
This phenomenon occurs due to prolonged viewing of the word and hearing its active repetition and is termed “semantic satiation.” It is a psychological phenomenon that refers to the subjective loss of meaning that is a result of prolonged exposure to a word.
In 1962, doctoral research student Leon Jakobovits James coined the phrase “semantic satiation” in his doctoral dissertation at McGill University.
According to James, it is a form of “reactive inhibition” where the brain cells fire increased energy to repeat the word. When you hear, read, or speak a word, your brain does not really listen to its sound, rather it spends time translating the sound into an idea.
The idea is strung together with other words to form a complex idea. When a word is repeated often, the brain ceases to recognize it as a word and breaks it into sounds.
The idea of semantic satiation is used to develop various techniques to reduce speech anxiety by stutterers. Repeating a word continuously leads to a reduction in the intensity of negative memories and emotions that are triggered while speaking. (source)
7. Reminiscence bump: a phenomenon in which older adults have an increased tendency to recollect memories which occurred from 16 to 25 years of age.
The reminiscence bump is an ability in older people to recollect events that occurred during their adolescence and early adulthood.
It is related to the study of autobiographical memory and plotting of memories to form a lifespan-retrieval curve. Researchers were able to find that people tend to remember events from their teens and twenties better than from any other time.
There are three possible explanations for this phenomenon such as a cognitive account, a narrative/identity account, and a biological/maturational account. Cognitive account deals with memory that occurs during a period of rapid change followed by a period of relative stability.
The narrative/identity account occurs due to a sense of identity that develops during adolescence and early adulthood. Biological/maturational account suggests that genetic fitness improves by having many memories that fall within the reminiscence bump.
Finally, the occurrence of the reminiscence bump is perfectly explained by the life-script account. It refers to a series of culturally important transitional milestones. These milestones occur in a sequential manner at an expected time during one’s lifespan.
It may be decades since you might have experienced your first love, first job, first car, or your first heartbreak. These memories are subjective and tend to stick to our mind as they are considered special. (source)
8. Dunning-Kruger Effect: a term to explain why ignorant people tend to boast about their confidence in spite of being wrong, and wiser people often have doubts about their knowledge.
At some point in our lives, we might have come across annoying individuals who brag about themselves but are clueless about things and possess an inflated ego.
The term “Dunning-Kruger Effect” was coined in 1999 by psychologists David Dunning and Justin Kruger. It is a cognitive bias in which incompetent people fail to recognize their incompetence but rather feel confident thinking about their competitive nature.
In an online survey, only 39% of employees were able to handle constructive criticism and were able to identify why they are being criticized. Whereas the remaining 61% were scorned and found to exhibit the Dunning-Kruger Effect.
It also frequently known as “illusory superiority,” where people tend to overestimate their good points in comparison with others.
The occurrence of Dunning-Kruger effect surged during the 2016 U.S. presidential elections and in the following months. The effect is dangerous when someone with influence or the means to do harm doesn’t possess anyone who can honestly point out their mistakes.
9. Mean World Syndrome: a phenomenon in which violence related to mass media content makes viewers believe that the world is a dangerous place than it actually is.
When was the last time you checked the news? Were you able to feel good afterward? News that is being broadcasted nowadays tends to sensationalize danger and wrongdoings.
This reporting mechanism evokes a sense of fear, danger, and negative effects on society. Mean world syndrome is a term coined by George Gerbner that describes violence-related content reported by mass media that makes viewers believe that the world is a dangerous place.
The term is a conclusion of his “Cultivation theory.” It states that there is a high number of TV viewers who are susceptible to mass media and believe that the claims are true and real.
The viewers tend to believe that the world created by television is an accurate depiction of the real world and also the aggression associated with it. Many parents try to shield their children from violence on television, but Gerbner argues that instead of shielding the children, one has to question the ways in which the violence is portrayed by the media.
Gerbner feared that excessive violence shown on television can glorify aggressive behavior and make viewers desensitized. To combat the negative effects of violence shown on media, one can check the integrity of the source and disconnect from media from time to time. (1,2)
10. Impostor phenomenon: a phenomenon in which an individual questions their accomplishments and faces anxiety of being exposed as a “fraud”.
Famous celebrities such as Neil Gaiman, Meryl Streep, and several others have fought the imposter syndrome.
According to clinical psychologist Jaruwan Sakulku, around 70% of people have experienced the syndrome at some point in their lives.
Imposter syndrome is a pervasive feeling of self-doubt and insecurity. The individuals doubt their accomplishments and experience a persistent feeling of being criticized as a fraud.
The individuals attribute their success to sheer luck or a result of deceiving others into thinking they are more intelligent than others. Numerous research has pointed out that the occurrence is increasingly found among high-achieving women but also affects men as well.
Despite external validation and numerous accolades, the individuals lack the internal acknowledgment of their accomplishments.
Experts believe that the impostor phenomenon might have stemmed from various factors such as gender stereotypes, childhood family dynamics, culture, and attribution style. The people who experience this syndrome tend to showcase symptoms related to depression, anxiety, and low self-confidence.