What Is Misophonia? Scientists Discover Why Chewing Noises Make Some People Mad

What Is Misophonia? Scientists Discover Why Chewing Noises Make Some People Mad

It’s normal for people to get mildly annoyed when they hear loud chewing noises or similar noises from people eating their food. But there are some people whose aversion to these sounds actually makes them feel particularly angry, or even aggressive, and it’s all because they suffer from a condition called misophonia.

According to Gizmodo Australia, misophonia literally means “hatred of sound,” and it’s not unusual for people suffering from the condition to be misunderstood as being overly “dramatic.” After all, the sounds of people eating potato chips, snapping gum, smacking one’s lips, or even breathing loudly, are often innocuous in nature. But the author of the Gizmodo article, Rae Paoletta, admitted that she does suffer from the condition, and that there is a “neurological basis” for sufferers’ anger when they hear typically inoffensive noises.

One other person who admits to suffering from misophonia is Olana Tansley-Hancock, a 29-year-old woman from Kent in South East England. Speaking to BBC News, she talked about how, for the past two decades, certain noises have made her want to “lash out,” even if they wouldn’t be especially bothersome to the average person.

“Anyone eating crisps is always going to set me off, the rustle of the packet is enough to start a reaction. It’s not a general annoyance, it’s an immediate ‘Oh my God, what is that sound?’ I need to get away from it or stop it.’

“I spent a long time avoiding places like the cinema. I’d have to move carriages seven or eight times on 30-minute train journeys, and I left a job after three months as I spent more time crying and having panic attacks than working.”

Tansley-Hancock was one of 20 people with misophonia who were studied by a group of U.K. scientists, together with a control group of 22 people who do not have the condition. The subjects were asked to listen to noises while in an MRI machine, with the noises including neutral sounds, the subjects’ specific trigger sounds, and a variety of “generally unpleasant” sounds such as people screaming or babies crying. Based on their observations, the researchers concluded that the anterior insular cortex, or the brain feature that connects senses to emotions, was especially active in people suffering from misophonia.

Another interesting takeaway was how the anterior insular cortex’s connection to other brain parts and features was different from how it was in people not suffering from the condition. According to Newcastle University researcher Dr. Sukhbinder Kumar, that’s what makes misophonia sufferers “go into overdrive” and get mad when they hear the trigger sounds, as opposed to the neutral and unpleasant sounds.

“The reaction is anger mostly, it’s not disgust, the dominating emotion is the anger – it looks like a normal response, but then it is going into overdrive.”

Currently, there is no way to treat the condition. For Olana Tansley-Hancock, the Kent woman who was one of the misophonics studied by the Newcastle team, she deals with her misophonia by using ear plugs, and also has to deal with the fact that caffeine and alcohol consumption could aggravate things. Still, she told BBC News that hers is not a serious case.

“I have a relatively mild case and am still able to have a job, I know a lot of people who aren’t able to have that, I feel quite fortunately really,” she said.

Researchers still aren’t sure how common misophonia really is, as it’s a fairly recent discovery and there are no 100 percent accurate means either to diagnose it in sufferers. But according to Newcastle University professor of cognitive neurology Tim Griffiths, there may be some hope, as his colleagues found that low levels of targeted electricity may be of potential help, due to its ability to tweak brain function.

“I was part of the skeptical community myself until we saw patients in the clinic and understood how strikingly similar the features are. We now have evidence to establish the basis for the disorder through the differences in brain control mechanism in misophonia.”

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