Many people experience déjà vu, which happens when they are in a supposedly new situation but feel they have been there before.
Some individuals even feel like they know what would happen next during the experience.
A Memory Phenomenon
What is déjà vu? UCLA psychiatrist Judith Orloff said that the expression means "already seen" in French.
"When it occurs, it seems to spark our memory of a place we have already been, a person we have already seen, or an act we have already done," she wrote on Psychology Today.
Colorado State University cognitive psychologist Anne Cleary has been working on déjà vu particularly as a memory phenomenon. This means that déjà vu is a trick of the brain similar to having a word on the top of one's tongue that can't be retrieved: the brain cannot consciously remember the past scene although it recognizes the similarity.
"I think the reason people come up with psychic theories about déjà vu is that they are these mysterious, subjective experiences," Cleary said.
Just A Feeling
In a new study, Cleary and colleagues also showed that the feeling of premonition that sometimes comes with déjà vu is also just a feeling.
The researchers created virtual reality scenarios using The Sims video game to recreate the sensation of déjà vu and take a closer look at the feeling of premonition that comes with it.Some of the virtual scenes where spatially identical to each other albeit the themes are unrelated.
The study participants were more likely to report feelings of déjà vu in areas that were mapped into the scenes that they have already seen earlier, mirroring the feeling of "being there before."
For the most recent experiments that still involve virtual reality scenario, participants moved through a series of turn that includes scenes spatially mapped to the previous one to induce déjà vu. The researchers, however, paused the videos before the participants could reach the final turn.
Premonitions During Déjà Vu Do Not Predict The Future
After asking the participants if they were experiencing déjà vu and if they felt they knew what the direction of the next turn is, the researchers found that half of the respondents had a strong premonition during déjà vu but were not able to recall the correct answer. It means that the feelings of prediction in those who had déjà vu do not predict the future.
"Déjà vu did not lead to above-chance ability to predict the next turn in a navigational path resembling a previously experienced but unrecalled path," the researchers wrote in the journal Psychological Science.
"The results suggest that feelings of premonition during déjà vu occur and can be illusory."