Are you one of those people who just can’t stand the sound of people munching and crunching too loud? How about when someone’s whistling? If the answer is yes, it may not be that you’re just fussy but you may suffer from a neurological condition and your brain is simply hardwired to express excessive emotional responses to certain noises you find annoying.
The condition in known as misophonia, and even though it’s been long recognized as a real condition, no one believed that it had any basis in neurology. Everyone just thought that some people are just annoyed by certain sounds. However, those suffering from misophonia find it to be much more than that. They are not simply annoyed by particular “trigger” sounds, they are actively enraged or stressed by it, often feeling like going into a fight or flight response.
To see exactly what’s going on in their brains, scientists from the Newcastle University conducted brain scans on people with misopohonia and found anomalies in the way their brains are wired. 22 subjects were involved in the experiment that had to listen to a range of different noises while the scientists were tracking their brains in MRI scanners. They were exposed to neutral sounds like rain, ten unpleasant ones, like a baby screaming, and their individual trigger noise, which can be pretty much anything, from eating crisps to sneezing.
They discovered that the part of the brain which connects our senses with our emotions was wired differently in these people and was sent through the roof when they were exposed to their trigger sounds. This is what causes these people to not just feel annoyed by the noises, but to start experiencing accelerated heartbeat, start sweating and feel genuine anger or hatred, some even start feeling threatened, panicked, or stressed upon hearing them.
Olana Tansley-Hancock, one of the subjects involved in the experiment, explained to BBC News
“I feel there’s a threat and get the urge to lash out – it’s the fight or flight response. 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.”
Some of the other subjects explained how they would feel ashamed or embarrassed afterwards, from their overreaction even though they know it’s out of their hands.
Dr Sukhbinder Kumar, the co-author of the study published in Current Biology, said in an interview for BBC News:
“They are going into overdrive when they hear these sounds, but the activity was specific to the trigger sounds not the other two 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.”
This news may be excellent for those suffering from misophonia since now they can freely say it’s a neurological condition they’re experiencing but unfortunately the study hasn’t revealed any new information with regards to coping with the condition. People living with the condition have been developing coping strategies of their own, some wear earplugs, others leave the room or don’t go to places where their trigger sounds are common but since the condition is now recognized as a neurological disorder maybe they will find a more technical treatment for it. We’ll just have to wait and see! In the meantime, have your earplugs standing by!