Have you experienced a vague feeling of familiarity in a new place?

November 19th, 2008 - 5:48 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, Nov 19 (IANS) You might be overcome with a vague yet familiar feeling when you find yourself in an entirely new place. Somehow you sense that you have been there before, but when and how, you have not the remotest idea. You are also dead sure that it is your first visit. But something is missing and the experience keeps nagging you.

For a long time, this eerie sensation has been attributed to everything from paranormal disturbances to neurological disorders.

However, in recent years, as more scientists began studying this phenomenon, a number of theories about déjà vu have emerged, suggesting that it is more than a mere memory glitch.

A new report by Colorado State University psychologist Anne M. Cleary, describes recent findings about déjà vu, according to a Colorado release.

The brain fluctuates between two different types of recognition memory: recollection and familiarity. Recollection-based recognition occurs when we can pinpoint an instance when a current situation has previously occurred.

For example, seeing a familiar man at a store and realising that we’ve seen him before on the bus. On the other hand, familiarity-based recognition occurs when our current situation feels familiar, but we don’t remember when it has happened before.

For example, we see that familiar man in the store, but we just can’t remember where we know him from. Déjà vu is believed to be an example of familiarity-based recognition - during déjà vu, we are convinced that we recognise the situation, but we are not sure why.

Cleary conducted experiments testing familiarity-based recognition in which participants were given a list of celebrity names. Later on, they were shown a collection of celebrity photographs; some photographs corresponded to the names on the list, other photographs did not.

The volunteers were told to identify the celebrities in the photographs and indicate how likely it was the celebrity’s names were on the list they had seen previously.

The findings were surprising. Even when the volunteers were unable to identify a celebrity by photo, they had a sense of which names they had studied earlier and which they had not.

These findings were published in Current Directions in Psychological Science.

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