Misophonia—when certain sounds drive you crazy

April 16, 2018 by Robin Bailey, The Conversation
Credit: stockfour/Shutterstock.com

What happens when you hear someone do any of the following: smacking their lips while eating, slurping drinks, breathing, yawning, sniffling, humming, tapping their fingers, typing or texting with the keyboard clicks switched on? If you have a strong emotional response and a desire to escape or stop the sound, you may have misophonia.

Literally meaning a "hatred of sound", misophonia is a neurophysiological condition in which people have a disproportionately negative reaction to specific sounds. People with the condition are aware that they overreact to certain sounds, it's just that their reaction is not within their control.

The trigger sounds that people with misophonia react to can vary from person to person. However, some categories are more common than others and they tend to be related to the mouth or eating, breathing or nasal sounds and finger or hand sounds. Evidence suggests that this aversion develops in childhood and tends to get worse over time.

People with misophonia find trigger sounds more distressing if they are produced by family members rather than by strangers. This may make family meals particularly problematic for misophonics.

Misophonic responses tend to be emotional, with anger being the most common , ranging from mild annoyance to extreme rage. People can also feel other strong emotional responses such as anxiety or disgust. Physiological responses include an increase in blood pressure and heart rate, sweating and muscle contractions.

You might assume that everyone has, to some degree, a negative response to certain sounds, such as a sudden, loud bang or high-pitched squeal. Yet in misophonia, people can react to sounds that are not widely considered unpleasant, such as whispering or soft breathing. Quiet sounds can evoke as much of a reaction in misophonics as loud sounds.

Researchers have investigated whether misophonia is linked to, or caused by, other psychiatric or physical , such as tinnitus, obsessive-compulsive disorder, eating disorders or . The evidence suggests that, although some association exists with these conditions, none of these disorders can fully explain misophonic symptoms, suggesting misonphonia is a separate and independent condition in its own right.

Fight or flight

Simply ignoring annoying sounds is not possible for misophonics. It appears that selective attention may be impaired in people with the condition, particularly when exposed to their trigger sounds. So if every time someone is close to their worst sounds, and their attention becomes fixated on it, the only options may be fight or flight.

A study of misophonics found that 29% became verbally aggressive when hearing their trigger noise, with a further 17% directing their aggression towards objects. A small but significant proportion of the sample (14%) reported that they had been physically aggressive towards others on hearing their trigger sound.

Misophonics have also reported that the condition has had such a negative effect on their lives that they have avoided social situations, relationships have broken down, and some have even thought about taking their own life.

Unfortunately, our understanding of the condition is in its infancy and so are treatments, although some evidence suggests that cognitive behavioural therapy may help. But given that the condition was only identified in 2001, we still have a long way to go in understanding it.

Explore further: Wired for sound: Enraging noises caused by brain connection overdrive

Related Stories

Wired for sound: Enraging noises caused by brain connection overdrive

February 3, 2017
While many of us may find the sounds of chewing or breathing off-putting, for some they're unbearable—and new research has shown their brains are going into overdrive.

Interaction between auditory cortex and amygdala responsible for our response to unpleasant sounds, research finds

October 10, 2012
(Medical Xpress)—Heightened activity between the emotional and auditory parts of the brain explains why the sound of chalk on a blackboard or a knife on a bottle is so unpleasant.

These tropical hummingbirds make cricket-like sounds other birds can't hear

March 5, 2018
Researchers reporting in Current Biology on March 5 have found that a tropical species of hummingbird called a black jacobin makes vocal sounds with an unusually high-frequency pitch that falls outside birds' normal hearing ...

Visual cues amplify sound

February 13, 2018
Looking at someone's lips is good for listening in noisy environments because it helps our brains amplify the sounds we're hearing in time with what we're seeing, finds a new UCL-led study.

Oysters close their shells in response to low-frequency sounds

October 25, 2017
Oysters rapidly close their shells in response to low-frequency sounds characteristic of marine noise pollution, according to a study published October 25, 2017 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Jean-Charles Massabuau ...

Study sheds light on the voices in our head

December 8, 2017
New research showing that talking to ourselves in our heads may be the same as speaking our thoughts out loud could help explain why people with mental illnesses such as schizophrenia hear voices.

Recommended for you

Scientists a step closer to predicting epidemics

July 13, 2018
Ecologists at the University of Georgia have taken an important step in their efforts to develop an early warning system for infectious disease outbreaks.

Researchers identify target for novel malaria vaccine

July 13, 2018
A Yale-led team of researchers have created a vaccine that protects against malaria infection in mouse models, paving the way for the development of a human vaccine that works by targeting the specific protein that parasites ...

Higher income and being married protect older people from broken bones

July 13, 2018
Research led by scientists from the Medical Research Council Lifecourse Epidemiology Unit (MRC LEU) at the University of Southampton has shown that a higher income and being married reduces the risk of experiencing a broken ...

Gammaherpesviruses linked to tumors in macaques with simian immunodeficiency virus

July 12, 2018
Viruses known as gammaherpesviruses may raise the risk of cancer in macaques infected with Simian Immunodeficiency Virus or Simian Human Immunodeficiency Virus (SIV/SHIV), according to new research published by Vickie Marshall ...

Scientists find protein exploited by virus ravaging West Africa

July 12, 2018
A research team from several institutions being led by the University of California San Diego has deciphered a key component behind a rising epidemic of pathogens that the World Health Organization (WHO) recently added to ...

How a Mediterranean diet could reduce osteoporosis

July 11, 2018
Eating a Mediterranean-type diet could reduce bone loss in people with osteoporosis—according to new research from the University of East Anglia.

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

RobertKarlStonjek
not rated yet Apr 16, 2018
Eat with your mouth open near me and violence may well follow, slack jawed Neanderthals are not welcome around me...it is bad enough when a dog or cat slurps their water and even worse when people slurp their soup like a one year old child in a high chair (I never use soup spoons, horrible badly designed implements left over from our peasant past, I only use regular spoons for soup.)

Clearly some misophonia is justifiable annoyance at disgusting behaviour. Would we call it a 'misolfactory' condition if people became annoyed with anal wind discharges at the dinner table (ie farting)??

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.