The Science Behind TikTok's Hanger Challenge

The social media platform TikTok is known for spurring viral videos and popular challenges that are sometimes questionable at best (via the New York Post). As Newsweek explains, some of these include the coronavirus challenge, the silhouette challenge, and much more. Furthermore, TikTok has also made certain recipes — such as whipped coffee and feta pasta — incredibly popular (per Taste of Home). However, there is a new trend that is bringing in nearly 32 million views (via Yahoo Lifestyle Australia). This is none other than the Hanger Challenge. According to Distractify, this trend first became popular back in the summer of 2020 in the midst of the pandemic.

Now, InsideHook states that it has seen a recent resurgence in popularity. The challenge is simple and safe — all one needs is a clothes hanger and a phone to record themselves participating. The hanger is then stretched and placed on the top of the head. PopCrush reports that an individual can expect their head to instinctively move to the left or the right. This peculiar experience is now referred to as the "hanger reflex." Users that have recorded and posted themselves doing the challenge on TikTok have had varying reactions.

Per PopCrush, many are doubtful that anything will occur prior to placing the hanger on their head. Nevertheless, many are taken aback when their head inevitably moves to their side (as seen on TikTok). As confirmed on Twitter by David Schoppik, a researcher from NYU's neuroscience institute, the hanger reflex is, in fact, a real thing.

Scientists are unsure why the hanger reflex occurs

According to Input Mag, the hanger reflex was first described in a 1991 study. However, IFLScience reports that this phenomenon was first publicized on a Japanese TV show in 1995, where a man admitted that he had placed a clothes hanger around his head while he was studying. He then realized that his head had involuntarily moved. In 2015, the National Library of Medicine wrote of a study conducted on 120 Japanese adults (60 men and 60 women) between the ages of 19-65 to learn more about the hanger reflex. Ultimately, the study found that the head moved when the unilateral frontotemporal region of the brain was squeezed by a metal hanger.

Moreover, the head rotated in 95.8% of the individuals that participated in the study. Out of the 120 adults, only five of them did not experience their heads moving when the hanger was placed on them (via the National Library of Medicine). The study also observed that gender didn't play a factor in head movement. Additionally, it was established that the head veered in the direction of the side that was squeezed by the hanger in 85.4% of the study's trials.

In the end, researchers came to the conclusion that more testing and groundwork needed to be done regarding the hanger reflex. As UNILAD explains, scientists are still unsure what causes this involuntary occurrence. A later study done in 2020 stated that exerting an object on the skin with force also produced the hanger reflex.

The hanger reflex could treat neurological disorders

Per the National Library of Medicine, the 2015 study on the hanger reflex noted that it could one day be used as a treatment for cervical dystonia. According to the Mayo Clinic, this condition is also known as spasmodic torticollis. Described as a rare disorder, the American Association of Neuromuscular & Electrodiagnostic Medicine (AANEM) writes that it causes the neck muscles to move sporadically, which makes the head turn involuntarily. Although it's unknown what exactly causes cervical dystonia, the AANEM states that it can sometimes occur after an accident. Currently, there is no cure — only treatment.

The Mayo Clinic explains that this disorder is agonizing and draining to the sufferer. Although treatment options include electrical stimulation, IFLScience explains that this option is expensive. That being said, in 2014, researchers decided to create a helmet-like object to study the hanger reflex (as seen on YouTube). Using the helmet, scientists applied force to different spots of the brain of the individual wearing it. Ultimately, it was found that the helmet turned the person's head in the right direction using the hanger reflex while they walked.

The National Library of Medicine states that by wearing the device, those with cervical dystonia found immense relief from their disorder. IFLScience reports that the patients that wore it for 30 minutes a day for three months had reduced involuntary head movement. Lastly, a study from 2020 from the Neurologia medico-chirurgica recounted a story of a woman whose head was turned to the right for five years. She wore the device, and within three months, she could move her head in any direction with little issue.