the opposite phenomenon of deja vu


We have all experienced a Deja vu. That is, that feeling whereby, suddenly, something that we supposedly see or do for the first time seems familiar to us. Much has been said about this phenomenon. However, its opposite, the Jamais Vuis much less known, although we also experience it frequently.

It has been necessary for its main researchers to win a parody prize, the Ig Nobel, for people to start talking about it. Jamais Vu. Specifically, these scientists have won the literature award, since the words were involved in the investigation. Although, in reality, they try to understand the neuropsychological processes through which the Jamais Vu.

Be that as it may, what is clear is that, even if it is a joke prize, the Ig Nobel has given them the push they needed to make known a phenomenon that, well studied, can even help to understand something as common as obsessive compulsive disorder.

What is the Jamais Vu?

He Jamais Vu It is a phenomenon by which something very familiar suddenly becomes it seems strange to us. Contrary to the Deja vu. For example, it happens when we write a very common word, but we feel like we wrote it for the first time. There have also been cases of people who are driving and suddenly have to stop because they are not clear about how to use each pedal in the car. In fact, one of the authors of this research recognizes in an article for The Conversation what happened to it. It can also happen that we are on a well-known street and suddenly get lost. And if there are some professionals who know it well, they are the musicianssince most of them have at some point experienced the feeling of playing something they knew note by note and suddenly going blank and not knowing what comes next.

Above all, these scientists saw what happens when a word is written many times. They had experienced it themselves during school punishments. And investigating the scientific literature they saw that a psychologist, Margaret Floy Washburn, had already described it at the beginning of the 20th century. She described it as a loss of associative power when she stared at a word for three minutes. But it seemed to be the same thing they had experienced.

The Ig Nobel-winning experiment

To study the Jamais Vu, these scientists designed a very simple experiment. They participated in it 94 undergraduate students, who were asked to write the same word many times, without stopping. Very simple words were used, as well as more complex ones, all of them in English, a language with which the participants were more than familiar.

They had to write without rest except for three reasons. That their hand had gotten tired, that they felt strange or that they got bored. They all stopped at some point, for one of these reasons, and the most curious thing is that 70% stopped at least once for feeling that the words were peculiar. That is, they were feeling a Jamais Vu.

This happened with all types of words, but especially with the most common ones, and not in too many repetitions. About 33 on average.

After this first part, the experiment was repeated with the word the (Article he either the in English). It was chosen because it is considered one of the most common. But, even though it was so common, 55% stopped writing for a while. Jamais Vuwith an average of only 27 repetitions.

The experiences as described by the students were very interesting, since they felt strange, but for very varied reasons. For example, one noted that “words lose their meaning the more you look at them.” And another that “it doesn’t seem right, it almost seems like it’s not really a word, but someone has tricked me into thinking it is.”


Writing a word many times is one of the most common ways to trigger a Jamais Vu. Credit: Gabrielle Henderson (Unsplash)

Why does the opposite of Deja vu?

Beyond simple curiosity, these scientists have carried out their study on the Jamais Vu to try to understand it in depth and apply it in the area of ​​psychology.

For now, his main hypothesis about the origin of this phenomenon is based on the brain’s need to check reality. They also explain it in The Conversation. “Our cognitive systems “They must remain flexible, allowing us to direct our attention where it is needed rather than getting lost in repetitive tasks for too long.” Therefore, when we are getting lost, the brain sends us a wake up call so that we can see if it is necessary to continue being detained there.

This indicates that the Jamais Vu it is necessary. It can be problematic if it occurs while driving, like the author of the study, but that is an exception. However, it is true that, as with other evolutionarily beneficial mental phenomena, such as anxiety, if taken to the extreme it does become a problem. In this case, it could trigger obsessive compulsive disorder.

Let’s imagine a person running to check if he has turned off the gas. She must check it again and again, because she is not sure. And when she does it so many times, there comes a time when she feels weird doing it. As if I had never done it. This generates even more confusion, so you need to check it again and there begins a vicious circle whose cognitive processes must be understood very well to find a solution.

Therefore, for these scientists, the Ig Nobel has been a blessing. Because now there are more people who know the Jamais Vu and they understand the need to study it. And that can be very beneficial for the future. He who laughs last, laughs best.

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