When your phone is in your pocket, the world is in one of two possible states: the phone is either ringing or not. You also have two possible states of mind: the judgment that the phone is ringing, or the judgment that it isnt. Obviously youd like to match these states in the correct way. True vibrations should go with its ringing, and no vibrations should go with its not ringing. Signal detection theory calls these faithful matches a hit and a correct rejection, respectively.
But there are two other possible combinations: you could mismatch true vibrations with its not ringing (a miss); or mismatch the absence of vibrations with its ringing (a false alarm). This second kind of mismatch is whats going on when you imagine a phantom phone vibration.
For situations where easy judgments can be made, such as deciding if someone says your name in a quiet room, you will probably make perfect matches every time. But when judgments are more difficult if you have to decide whether someone says your name in a noisy room, or have to evaluate something youre not skilled at mismatches will occasionally happen. And these mistakes will be either misses or false alarms.
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