summary: Repetition in the brain gives rise to two strange phenomena: déjà vu and its lesser-known counterpart, jamais vu. The latter makes familiar experiences seem new and frighteningly unsettling.
Recent research, which won an Ig Nobel Prize, investigated this by having participants write words repeatedly, with many of them feeling choked up after just 33 repetitions. This study provides insight into cognitive flexibility and provides potential links to conditions such as OCD.
- Jamais vu is the feeling in which familiar situations suddenly feel new or surreal.
- In experiments, 70% of participants experienced confusion after repeatedly typing a word about 33 times.
- Earlier research conducted in 1907 also highlighted this phenomenon, showing a “loss of associative strength” in repeatedly presented words.
Repetition has a strange relationship with the mind. Take, for example, the experience of déjà vu, when we mistakenly believe we have experienced a new situation in the past, leaving you with a frightening feeling of the past. But we’ve discovered that déjà vu is actually a window into the way our memory system works.
Our research found that this phenomenon arises when the part of the brain that detects familiarity is out of sync with reality. Déjà vu is the signal that alerts you to this strangeness: it’s kind of… “Fact checking” of the memory system.
But repetition can do something even more strange and unusual. The opposite of déjà vu is “jamais vu,” when something you know is familiar seems unreal or new in some way. In our Recent researchwhich it has He’s just won the Ig Nobel Prize for Literaturewe investigated the mechanism behind this phenomenon.
Jamais vu may involve looking at a familiar face and Finding it suddenly unusual or unknown. Musicians have this problem temporarily, as they get lost in a very familiar piece of music. You may have gone to a familiar place and become disoriented or see it with “fresh eyes.”
It is an experience that It is even rarer than déjà vu Perhaps even more strange and disturbing. When you ask people to describe them in questionnaires about their experiences in everyday life, they give accounts such as: “While writing in my exams, I write a word correctly like ‘appetite’ but I keep looking at the word over and over again because I have a second.” Ideas that may be wrong.
In everyday life, it can be provoked by repetition or staring, but it doesn’t have to be. One of us, Akira, had a driving experience on the highway, which necessitated a stop on the hard shoulder to allow him to familiarize himself with the pedals and steering wheel to “reset.” Fortunately, it is rare in the wild.
We don’t know much about Jamais Fu. But we guessed that it would be very easy to induce in the laboratory. If you ask someone to repeat something over and over again, they will often find that it becomes meaningless and confusing.
This was the basic design of our experiments on Jamais Fu. In the first experiment, 94 college students spent their time repeatedly writing the same word. They did this using twelve different words that ranged from common words, such as “door,” to less common words, such as “wing.”
We asked participants to copy the word as quickly as possible, but told them that they were allowed to stop, and gave them some reasons why they might stop, including feeling strange, being bored or hurting their hands. Stopping because things started to feel strange was the most common choice, with about 70% stopping at least once due to feeling something we defined as “jamais vu.” This usually happens after about 1 minute (33 repetitions) – usually for familiar words.
In a second experiment we used only the word “the”, believing it to be the most common. This time, 55% of people stopped writing for reasons consistent with our definition of jamais vu (but after 27 repetitions).
People have described their experiences as ranging from “they lose meaning the more you look at them” to “they seem to lose control of the hand” and our favorite “it doesn’t feel right, it almost feels like it’s not really a word but someone is deluded.” me thinking about it.
It took us about 15 years to write and publish this scientific work. In 2003, we were acting on a hunch that people would feel weird typing a word repeatedly. One of us, Chris, noticed that the lines he was repeatedly asked to write as punishment in high school made him feel weird — as if they weren’t real.
It took 15 years because we weren’t as smart as we thought. It was not as modern as we thought it would be. In 1907, one of psychology’s anonymous founding figures, Margaret Floy Washburnpublished an experience With one of her students who showed a “loss of associative strength” in words that were stared at for three minutes. Words became strange, lost their meaning and became fragmented over time.
We have reinvented the wheel. These methods and introspective investigations have fallen out of favor in psychology.
Our unique contribution is the idea that transformations and loss of meaning in repetition are accompanied by a certain feeling – jamais fou. Jamais vu is a signal to you that something has become too spontaneous, too fluent, too repetitive. It helps us “break out” of our current processing, and the feeling of unreality is actually a reality check.
It makes sense that this should happen. Our cognitive systems must remain flexible, allowing us to direct our attention wherever we need it rather than getting lost in repetitive tasks for too long.
We are only beginning to understand jamais vu. The main scientific explanation is “saturation” – overloading a representation until it becomes inconsequential. Related ideas include “Effect of Verbal Shift” Repeating a word over and over again activates so-called neighbors so that you start hearing the word “tress” over and over again, but then listeners report hearing the word “dress,” “stress,” or “florist.”
It also appears to be related to research into obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), which I looked at the effect Compulsively staring at objects, such as burning gas rings. Like repetitive writing, the effects are strange and mean that reality begins to slip away, but this may help us understand and treat OCD. If repeatedly checking that the door is closed makes the task meaningless, it means that it is difficult to know if the door is closed, and thus the vicious circle begins.
Ultimately, we are happy to have won the IG Nobel Prize for Literature. The winners of these awards contribute scientific works that “make you laugh and then think.” We hope that our work on jamais vu will inspire further research and greater insights in the near future.
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