jamais vu?


What’s the opposite of deja vu?

you may encounter these disconcerting moments from time to time -instances where you walk into a new situation and find it oddly familiar despite never having experienced it before. This common phenomenon is called déjà vu, French for “already seen.”

At its opposite is a slightly less common phenomenon — jamais vu, which translates to “never seen” in French. It’s when you’re in a familiar situation but suddenly feel as if you’re experiencing it for the first time. This could happen with a certain place, an action, or even a person. Your sense of knowing disappears despite recognizing that something has occurred before.

Imagine, for example, that you’re driving to work or to your favorite shopping spot. You turn down one lane and suddenly find yourself momentarily at a loss — “Am I supposed to turn right or left next?” you wonder, even though you’ve driven this path so many times it’s muscle memory now.

At other times, you may find yourself forgetting certain details — blanking out, or unable to remember a name you use every day. It’s that frustrating “tip of the tongue” feeling where you just can’t get the words out. These floundering moments that leave you bewildered, blindsided, and questioning your memory are perfect examples of jamais vu.

You’ve Experienced Jamais Vu Without Knowing It

If you think you’ve never experienced jamais vu, think again. Pick a word — “shampoo” — and repeat it 15 to 20 times. Does it sound odd? Does it sound fake? Has it lost all meaning? Logically, you know what shampoo is, but it becomes an unfamiliar term as you repeatedly voice it aloud.

In 2006 a study conducted by cognitive neuropsychologist Chris Moulin induced jamais vu in his study participants with this word repetition method. In the experiment, 92 volunteers wrote the word “door” 30 times in one minute. Sixty-eight percent reported symptoms of jamais vu as they began to doubt the reality of the word. Moulin went on to relate the brain fatigue with schizophrenia, likening the mental illness to a chronic and extreme form of jamais vu.

It might be easier to understand it as a glitch in the system. When you experience jamais vu, you may try to reason with yourself that the situation should be familiar, but there’s a hiccup. The part of your brain that’s supposed to be processing and logging the information, connecting it to past experiences, isn’t responding in kind, leaving you wondering how to react.

If you experience this sensation on a few rare occasions, don’t worry — it’s completely normal. If this bewildering feeling starts to happen more regularly, consider a visit to your doctor. Jamais vu can also describe symptoms of certain neurological conditions.

At the end of the day, jamais vu, like déjà vu, is a tricky phenomenon to explain, but still a normal human occurrence. The next time you pause, bewildered, during a summary of your favorite movie, or briefly panic over which turn to take while on your evening jog, remind yourself it’s probably just a moment of jamais vu.



Source: Word Genius,

Image credit: Alexandre Ayer 


101 responses »

  1. I have never heard this term or of this phenomenon before. I am sure I have experienced it at some point, but would not have known what to call it or how normal it might be. I thought most educators took Sunday off, but I was happen to get a free lesson from you today. As with any good encounter, I leave knowing and understanding more about the world around me than I did when I arrived. Thank you for that, Beth! Well written post!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I love learning about new psychology terms, and I have certainly experienced Jamais vu. This reminds me a bit of another term, Vuja de. This is the reverse of deja vu – we face something familiar, but we see it with a fresh perspective that enables us to gain insights into old problems.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Thank you for this, Beth. You’ve not only enlightened me but added another phrase to my meager French vocabulary. My sense of direction is so bad that I just get cars with navigation. The car costs more but I figure that’s offset by the savings in time and fuel costs.

    Liked by 4 people

  4. As someone married to a French spoken (Swiss) man, we both have plenty of ‘déjà vus’. The ‘jamais vu’ experience is one I quite often have and hopefully not for a lessening of my grey matter. But rather for the fact that in my head i have CONSTANTLY three languages battling for their rightful place and so often i have no recollection of all of the ONE word i need to say but can’t because it has just temporarily disappeared. We were at my 93yr old mum’s and neither for love or money I could think of a place i was as a child with our school. Then, 30’ later, and with no context at all, I knew it – Malasio….. just like that. I think my brain was quietly settling for some Swiss German and had time to return to a normal function.
    This explanation of yours and the site Word Genius is GENIOUS. Ta

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Regarding the study that was done… My husband studies that kind of thing for a living. I forwarded this to him, and this was his reply. “ Neurons run on chemicals that are very like little batteries, if you fire the same one 20 times, it runs out of juice.” Who knew??

    Liked by 4 people

  6. I remember when I went in for a college interview. I had applied to do my masters in clinical psychology, and when the interviewers asked me what psychology was. I blanked out and didn’t know what to say even though I’d taken so many psychology exams full of tough questions before! I got in though. Surprisingly. Great informative article.

    Liked by 3 people

  7. I know exactly what this is. It is the oddest feeling, isn’t it? Driving home one day I was convinced I was going in the wrong direction… a highway I have driven a bazillion times… rather disconcerting, it is. More so than déjà vu.

    Liked by 3 people

  8. Just to add another token of my life: I drove (several times) to my work place in the evenings, forgetting or striking off the fact that I should have gone off ‘that’ road to go to my choir’s rehearsal…. Or, in summer, on the way home from work, I went swimming and after that I got into the car and drove again to work…. as if I hadn’t just spent 9hrs there!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. What a relief! It has happened to me, sometimes with spelling common words, and I worry that I am showing early signs of dementia.
    The direction discussion earlier was interesting too. I have a very good sense of direction, and can generally return to places after I have been there once. However my sense of left and right is very poor, so I have to think hard when someone tells me to ‘turn right’! It infuriates my partner!

    Liked by 4 people

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