Think you've never hallucinated? You're wrong. Almost every modern person in a developed country has had this hallucination - some populations have it so predictably that within a few months, ninety-five percent experience it.

Hallucinations are far more common than most people suppose. People suppose they happen very rarely because we associate the word "hallucination" with dancing pink elephants or ghostly women in white. In reality, hallucinations are not dramatic scenes in which people wail, "Is this a dagger I see before me?" Instead they are more like, "Is that a black cat in the room? Oh, no, it's just a shadow."

Some people consider this scenario too dramatic, but nearly everyone, today, has had one particular auditory hallucination - a cell phone ringing. I've recently joined the ranks of those who have this hallucination, because I am expecting a call. The circumstances aren't important - but they do cause me to think I hear a particular tune at least three times a day. I've never thought I heard it before, but now, whenever ambient noise gets a little too loud and varied, I make a grab for my pocket, sure that I hear the tune, and find that no one has called me.

It's exactly this circumstance - expecting a call that can come at any time - that caused the hallucinations in one particular study. A group of medical school students beginning an internship enrolled in a study which examined how many of them would come to hallucinate their cell phones ringing. Before the study even started, the hallucination rate was at 78.1 percent for vibration and 27.4 percent for ringing. The vibration hallucination rate peaked during the third month, with 95.9 percent feeling the vibe, while the ringing hallucination peaked at the sixth month mark with 87.7 percent. By the twelfth month, when everyone had relaxed, hallucinations of vibration dropped to baseline, but 86 percent of people still heard their phantom phones. The study also tracked depression, and although that increased during the internship, it did not seem to be correlated with hallucinations.

Did anyone ever stop hearing cell phone hallucinations? The study outcome looks bleak. After the internship, that vibration hallucination rate dropped to 50 percent - well below what it had been before the study started. The auditory hallucinations stayed at around 80 percent. People seemed to have trained themselves into having auditory hallucinations.

Advertisement

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go answer my phone.

[Via Prevalent Hallucinations during Medical Internships.]