Researchers identify one of the factors behind déjà vu phenomenon

explication phénomène déjà-vu

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Deja vu refers to the feeling of having already lived when an existing situation is completely new. Scientists have been trying to find out the cause of this phenomenon and the factors that provoked it for more than a century. Research provided some elements of the answer only recently, in the early 2000s. A team of psychologists from Colorado State University took another look at the issue: They were able to identify one of the factors behind this strange feeling.

The term deja vu was first used in 1876 by the French philosopher Émile Boirac in his book. The future of the psychic sciences. You’ve probably already experienced this, because this phenomenon affects two-thirds of the population – though its frequency decreases with age. This impression usually lasts only a few seconds, and the supposed resemblance to a past experience is more or less about the details.

After decades of research, investigating a variety of possible causes, from mental dysfunction to paranormal manifestations, it was American psychiatrist Alan Brown who really helped advance research on the subject. In 2003, she reviewed dozens of retrospective and prospective surveys as well as case studies to take stock of her more than a century of knowledge on the subject. ” Deja vu appears to be associated with stress and fatigue and is positively associated with socioeconomic status and education. », notes in the review article.

A sensation based on spatial similarity

Brown also identified the most common trigger for the feeling of déjà vu: it would be a scene or a place. To him, the second most common trigger would be a simple conversation. By exploring the available medical literature, she also found clues to a potential relationship between déjà vu and certain types of seizures in the brain. ” His work has served as a catalyst for scientists to design experiments to investigate déjà vu. », Highlights Anne ClearyProfessor of cognitive psychology at Colorado State University.

Cleary and his collaborators therefore conducted experiments aimed at testing hypotheses on possible mechanisms of déjà vu. They were particularly interested in a multiple-studied hypothesis based on Gestalt’s law of familiarity. Gestalt (or “shape psychology”) is a theory in which perception and mental representation treat phenomena as whole shapes rather than juxtapositions of individual elements.

The Law of Familiarity suggests that we always perceive the most familiar and meaningful shapes. The hypothesis tested here suggests that déjà vu can occur when there is a spatial similarity between a present scene and a past scene for which the individual has no memory. Therefore, the arrangement of furniture or other objects in a room may be very similar to what you have observed elsewhere in the past, thus causing déjà vu.

According to the Gestalt familiarity hypothesis, you can only stay with a strong sense of familiarity with the current situation if you don’t mind the previous situation that had a similar disposition to the current situation. ‘, explains the expert.

A misleading predictive ability due to a cognitive bias

Cleary and his team tested this hypothesis. thanks to virtual reality. So they immersed the participants in the scenes created from scratch; some had exactly the same spatial arrangement, though very different. As expected, déjà vu was more likely to occur when people were in a scene containing items arranged in the same way as another scene they had seen before but did not remember.

Examples of scenes used for the experiment presenting the same spatial arrangement. © A. Cleary et al.

This experiment made it possible to confirm that the spatial similarity of a new situation with a situation in memory, but not consciously remembered at the time, is one of the factors contributing to the emergence of a truly foreseeable situation. But the psychologist points out that this is certainly not the only cause of the phenomenon! Many other factors can trigger this display of familiarity, and more research is ongoing to determine them.

Note that the scientist has studied extensively on the alleged relationship between déjà vu and premonition feelings. Indeed, several people who have experienced déjà vu have reported that they were confident they knew what would happen next. for cleary, this gift of premonition is just an illusion. He and his colleagues recreated déjà vu conditions in the lab to test the participants’ predictive ability. The results are official: déjà vu did not lead to greater luck than the ability to predict the next turn on a cruise that resembled a previously experienced but not remembered path. ‘, the team reported.

However, déjà vu states were accompanied by an increased sense of knowing the direction of the next turn. No matter how intense it is, it is therefore just an emotion. The team concluded that a metacognitive bias caused by the state itself could explain the relationship between déjà vu and a sense of foreboding.

And this bias is not just predictive, but also postdictive : People are more likely to think that an event went as planned after it caused déjà vu. This connotation can be explained by the fact that a heightened sense of familiarity at the time of the occurrence of an event falsely points to confirmatory evidence of the fact that the person has always felt how that event will unfold.

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