If the sound of someone chomping on their lunch winds you up, you’re not alone. The phenomenon of being frustrated by everyday sounds has a name – misophonia – and now scientists think they can finally explain it.
A new study at Newcastle University suggests certain noises prompt distinctive brain activity and a fight-or-flight response in misophonics.
When 20 sufferers were tasked with listening to tigger sounds like chewing or breathing, heart rates and skin conductance, both indicators of fight-or-flight, rapidly increased. But the most interesting response was in the brain.
Scans showed the noises caused heightened activity in the anterior insular cortex – a region that plays a big role in determining what we pay attention to.
And there was also abnormally high connectivity to areas linked to regulating emotion and memory, suggesting that attention and the emotional response in people with misophonia may be disrupted.
Miren Edelstein, a misophonia expert at the University of California, told New Scientist: I am hopeful that, in addition to providing powerful validation to sufferers of misophonia, this study will inspire a new wave of research on this topic.”
The new study has also raised hopes that the research could even lead to treatments for the misophonia, which in some sufferers can be hugely disruptive.
In a blog for HuffPost last year, Laura de Stefano, a mental health and chronic pain writer, wrote: “It starts with the phone alarm in the morning, shortly followed by the full alarm. It ends with the winding of our quirky, slightly annoying, yet strangely soothing clockwork clock.
“For us, every sound induces the actual sensory agony in our ears to the point they seem to ache and oft induces an actual headache. On particularly bad days, we are pushed to tears by the quietest of noises.”