Déjà vu – Sound familiar?
Ever had a feeling that something has happened before even though you know it can’t possibly be true? Are these feelings your memories of a past life? Are you psychic? Is there a glitch in the matrix?
There’s definitely something eerie and mysterious about déjà vu. But everything can be explained by science, right?
Actually, déjà vu is a poorly understood phenomenon and there are many different theories about how and why déjà vu occurs.
Déjà vu is really tricky to study because it is a subjective and random experience that can occur at any time – hence the lack of consensus on why it happens.
France gave us déjà vu
Déjà vu is a French word, which literally translates into “already seen”. People describe the experience as a feeling of familiarity with a particular situation, while at the same time knowing that the situation is completely new. For example, imagine you walk into a store that you have never been to before, but for some reason you just can’t shake the feeling that you have been in that exact spot before. Or perhaps you overhear a conversation which you swear you heard just yesterday. Creepy, right?
Déjà vu: Mind tricks or good for your health?
One theory suggests that déjà vu is simply a form of familiarity-based recognition. Familiarity-based recognition is a feeling of familiarity with a place, something or someone due to particular features you are familiar with from a different situation.
This all sounds pretty confusing, but at its core, familiarity-based recognition could be something like: You go on a holiday to Hawaii and you feel like you’ve been there before even though you know this is your first trip outside of Australia; it feels familiar because of the scenes of Hawaii you saw from all those Getaway episodes you watched.
This theory is supported by the fact that people who travel more or watch TV and movies more or are more able to recall their dreams also experience déjà vu more frequently. Scientists argue that these activities increase the store of familiarities a person has, so déjà vu is more likely to occur due to familiarity-based recognition.
Another theory suggests that déjà vu is actually a sign of good memory function. So the more often you get déjà vu, the better your memory is – seems counterintuitive doesn’t it? Well, Japanese researchers found that people who experienced déjà vu were younger and more educated than those who did not experience it. They used this information along with other memory-related measures to conclude that, as a person ages and their memory deteriorates so does the frequency of déjà vu.
An unpublished study builds on this theory, suggesting that déjà vu is a process of the brain checking its memories to see if there is any error, and thus is a sign of healthy brain function. This potentially explains why the frequency of déjà vu decreases as you age and your memory function deteriorates, so does. However the proof is far from concrete due to the difficulty of studying déjà vu – hence the many theories floating around.
Of course, these theories aren’t even the tip of the iceberg – but we’re not going near the “alien abduction” déjà vu theories.
Who knows, maybe we will solve the mystery that is déjà vu, or maybe it will remain one of life’s curious unknowns.
So, what do you think causes déjà vu?