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Deja Vu: A Psychological Explanation

Updated on September 9, 2011
The Human Brain
The Human Brain | Source

You're walking down the street towards your local convenient store to pick up some milk to take home. Upon entering the store, your mind flashes for a brief second and you felt like you've been there before. Not in the sense that you've walked in that door of that specific convenient store, but that you've quite literally been in that same spot in time before! You remember the people there, you remember the position your body was in, you remember what the temperature change felt like going from outside to inside the convenient store. But how could this be?

You just experienced deja vu (which is french for "already seen"). This is a phenomenon that when it occurs, it leaves the individual with a feeling of "I've already seen this". They remember their surroundings but can't accurately describe how or why.

There are several outlandish theories as to why deja vu happens. I have a friend, Terry, who suggested that the big bang has happened more than once, and life on Earth has occurred the same way over and over again, and somehow we retain some of the information every time life begins anew, and we are in the same spots.

I did say outlandish didn't I?

Now of course Terry's suggestion is wildly imaginative and more fun to speculate than it ever would be productive, yet I know many more people who would like to believe paranormal or epic theories just like that, so what does exactly cause deja vu?

Before we begin on the neurological causes, let's discuss the triggers. Deja vu can be triggered by all sorts of stimuli, including touch, smell, sound, and more commonly sight. You may walk in a room and hear certain music and smell a particular wafting smell of the pie in the kitchen. This triggers a deja vu experience and you believe to have been here before. Most people think that because these experiences of "This has already happened", are so weird and confusing, they might be paranormally caused. Although scientists don't know for sure what causes it, they don't believe it's anything quite as outlandish as telepathy or precognition, or something just as paranormally intriguing. However, here are some top scientific theories as to the occurrence of the phenomenon that is Deja Vu:

1. Neurological Time Lag

One theory of Deja Vu suggests that deja vu is caused by a lag in the relaying of information from one side of the cerebral hemisphere to the other. This brief lag is a millisecond is time measurement. This would cause one part of the brain to have already processed information from what was sensed, not necessarily seen, while the other part of the brain processed it only a millisecond behind. This would be enough time to experience that feeling of having already seen or heard something, because it's not that you have, but that your brian now processed it twice.

2. Source Amnesia

Source Amnesia refers to our brains ability of source memory or source monitoring, and more specifically a disruption or interference of the source memory function. Source memory is the human brains ability to remember information we've acquired, and how, when, and where we did. Source amnesia therefore refers to a brief disfunction of this ability.

For example, say while you enter a hotel for the first time you immediately have a feeling of extreme familiarity with the hotel, but you know you've never been there. You remember the inside of it, the look and the lights and possibly even the feel, or so you think, yet you're sure you have not been there before. It's more than likely that you've seen pictures of the hotel somewhere online or somewhere in a magazine, yet you simply forget that source, i.e. the source of the memory is forgotten, thus source amnesia. If you remember the source, it is no longer a deja vu experience, but while you still are suffering from source amnesia it will feel like you have had something close to deja vu.

3. Inattentional Blindness

This explanation refers to an individual who was not closely paying attention to his or her surroundings while they were distracted with something else. If you are speaking with someone, whether on the phone or standing right next to you, and you are not entirely focused on your surroundings, your brain has still processed them slightly. However, once you end the conversation and actually perceive your surroundings and take note of them, you have a deja vu experience. Not because you were actually in that location before, but because your brain has already slightly processed the information of your surroundings without your knowledge, so once you bring your surroundings to your attention, you've processed them more than once and you feel like you've "already seen" it!

Thanks for reading and I hope you know have a better understanding of what deja vu is and how it is caused! Leave comments of deja vu experiences you've had for other people to talk about and relate to!



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      mike 5 years ago

      I really don't know what to think about all the information I've read about Deja Vu, because of a deja vu moment I had a few years ago. I was sitting on the edge of a fence together with my sister's exboyfriend and we expirenced deja vu at the same time!!!! I really don't know what think of this all, I mean, normal deja vu is already weird and people already seem to have a good explination for it, but expirancing it at the same exact moment as some one else isn't just weird! There must be more to this, right?

    • Taylor Lueck profile image

      Taylor Lueck 6 years ago from Dayton

      Thank you for reading/commenting! I'm glad you enjoyed it!

    • carcro profile image

      Paul Cronin 6 years ago from Winnipeg

      Really interesting article, your're right, we've all experienced deja vu, sometimes a lot. The brain is an amazing organ, can trick us into believing all kinds of things! Thanks for sharing. Voted Up and Interesting!