Repetition has an odd relationship with the thoughts. Take the expertise of déjà vu, after we wrongly consider we have now skilled a novel state of affairs prior to now – leaving us with an spooky sense of pastness.
However we have now found that déjà vu is definitely a window into the workings of our reminiscence system.
Our analysis discovered that the phenomenon arises when the a part of the mind which detects familiarity de-synchronises with actuality. Déjà vu is the sign which alerts you to this weirdness: it’s a kind of “truth checking” for the reminiscence system.
However repetition can do one thing much more uncanny and strange.
The other of déjà vu is “jamais vu”, when one thing you recognize to be acquainted feels unreal or novel not directly. In our current analysis, which has simply received an Ig Nobel award for literature, we investigated the mechanism behind the phenomenon.
Jamais vu might contain a well-recognized face and discovering it abruptly uncommon or unknown. Musicians have it momentarily – dropping their approach in a really acquainted passage of music. You’ll have had it going to a well-recognized place and turning into disorientated or seeing it with “new eyes”.
It is an expertise which is even rarer than déjà vu and even perhaps extra uncommon and unsettling. While you ask individuals to explain it in questionnaires about experiences in every day life they provide accounts like: “Whereas writing in my exams, I write a phrase appropriately like ‘urge for food’ however I hold wanting on the phrase again and again as a result of I’ve second ideas that it may be unsuitable.”
In every day life, it may be provoked by repetition or staring, however it needn’t be. One in every of us, Akira, has had it driving on the motorway, necessitating that he pull over onto the exhausting shoulder to permit his unfamiliarity with the pedals and the steering wheel to “reset”. Fortunately, within the wild, it is uncommon.
We do not know a lot about jamais vu. However we guessed it might be fairly simple to induce within the laboratory. If you happen to simply ask somebody to repeat one thing time and again, they typically discover it turns into meaningless and complicated.
This was the essential design of our experiments on jamais vu. In a primary experiment, 94 undergraduates spent their time repeatedly writing the identical phrase. They did it with twelve completely different phrases which ranged from the commonplace, resembling “door”, to much less frequent, resembling “sward”.
We requested individuals to repeat out the phrase as shortly as potential, however advised them they had been allowed to cease, and gave them a couple of the reason why they could cease together with feeling peculiar, being bored or their hand hurting.
Stopping as a result of issues started to really feel unusual was the most typical choice chosen, with about 70% stopping no less than as soon as for feeling one thing we outlined as jamais vu. This often occured after about one minute (33 repetitions) – and sometimes for acquainted phrases.
In a second experiment we used solely the phrase “the”, figuring that it was the most typical. This time, 55% of individuals stopped writing for causes per our definition of jamais vu (however after 27 repetitions).
Folks described their experiences as starting from “They lose their which means the extra you have a look at them” to “appeared to lose management of hand” and our favorite “it does not appear proper, virtually appears prefer it’s probably not a phrase however somebody’s tricked me into pondering it’s.”
Attempt writing ‘the’ 33 instances. (Christopher Moulin, CC BY)
It took us round 15 years to jot down up and publish this scientific work. In 2003, we had been appearing on a hunch that folks would really feel bizarre whereas repeatedly writing a phrase. One in every of us, Chris, had observed that the traces he had been requested to repeatedly write as a punishment at secondary college made him really feel unusual – as if it weren’t actual.
It took 15 years as a result of we weren’t as intelligent as we thought we had been. It wasn’t the novelty that we thought it was. In 1907, certainly one of psychology’s unsung founding figures, Margaret Floy Washburn, printed an experiment with certainly one of her college students which confirmed the “lack of associative energy” in phrases that had been stared at for 3 minutes. The phrases grew to become unusual, misplaced their which means and have become fragmented over time.
We had reinvented the wheel. Such introspective strategies and investigations had merely fallen out of favour in psychology.
Our distinctive contribution is the concept that transformations and losses of which means in repetition are accompanied by a selected feeling – jamais vu.
Jamais vu is a sign to you that one thing has grow to be too computerized, too fluent, too repetitive. It helps us “snap out” of our present processing, and the sensation of unreality is in truth a actuality verify.
It is smart that this has to occur. Our cognitive techniques should keep versatile, permitting us to direct our consideration to wherever is required fairly than getting misplaced in repetitive duties for too lengthy.
We’re solely starting to know jamais vu. The primary scientific account is of “satiation” – the overloading of a illustration till it turns into nonsensical.
Associated concepts embrace the “verbal transformation impact” whereby repeating a phrase time and again prompts so-called neighbours so that you simply begin off listening to the looped phrase “tress” time and again, however then listeners report listening to “costume,” “stress,” or “florist”.
It additionally appears associated to analysis into obsessive compulsive dysfunction (OCD), which seemed on the impact of compulsively gazing objects, resembling lit fuel rings. Like repeatedly writing, the consequences are unusual and imply that actuality begins to slide, however this may assist us perceive and deal with OCD.
If repeatedly checking the door is locked makes the duty meaningless, it is going to imply that it’s tough to know if the door is locked, and so a vicious cycle begins.
In the end, we’re flattered to have been awarded the Ig Nobel prize for literature. The winners of those prizes contribute scientific works which “make you giggle after which make you suppose”.
Hopefully our work on jamais vu will encourage extra analysis and even larger insights within the close to future.
An earlier model of this text was printed in September 2023.