Déjà Vu Continues to Elude Scientists

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Have you ever walked into a situation where you feel like it’s happened before? You’re certain it has, but you’re not quite sure when or how it became so familiar?

Déjà vu – the uncanny feeling in your gut that you’ve experienced a situation before – has eluded and stumped scientists for an explanation for a long time. Scientists continue to study it, but can only resort to making good guesses on memory models.

Anne Cleary, cognitive psychologist at Colorado State University and several colleagues wanted to see if virtual reality may be able to induce and replicate the same déjà vu feeling onto test subjects. The scientists had college students come in and immerse themselves into a 3-D Virtual-reality world. This “Deja ville” was a village of structures constructed off of the game Sims 2 which featured places of interest, in which some of them had identical layouts. For example, chairs and pieces of artwork may be in the same arrangement in a museum as it is in a bar.

The results gathered showed that déjà vu occurred most frequently when newly discovered points of interest were similar to previously explored ones. The experience was most common when these new and old scenes were similar in spatial layout, although not similar enough to be noticed at a first glance.

“The confusing combination between a sense of newness, yet also one of familiarity and recollection may be a reason behind why déjà vu is as perplexingly weird as it is. Something that is unfamiliar should not at the same time also feel familiar.”
Anne Cleary, Cognitive Psychologist
Colorado State University

There are so many different theories that explain the déjà vu phenomena, yet none of them have been proven significant over another. One theory explains that it might be that a person wasn’t paying attention, or was distracted during a scene, that makes detail much more difficult to recall. Another theory states that it might not even be the scene, but a unique item that seems familiar that causes the phenomenon to occur.

What’s clearly obvious when dealing with occurrences of déjà vu, is that it all happens in the brain and has a lot to do with memory. It’s a phenomenon that everyone has experienced – but is much more difficult to isolate when testing. There are just so many factors that could contribute to the experience. Whether or not this proves their theories right, at least for Anne Cleary and her colleagues, it is not just simply “a glitch in the matrix.”