Ever been at a restaurant, or even just at work, and you suddenly hear….it? The sound of the object of your despair, slurping away at a drink, munching and swallowing their food, — just like a cow chewing cud. And then, you’re overtaken by disgust, anger, or even the urge to smack the food right out of their hands. Just so you’re not subject to another second of that godawful sound?
That’s called misophonia, and yes, it’s very much a real thing — it’s a hatred of sound, and it’s often triggered by hearing someone while they eat, the small chewing, swallowing, slurping and the like. It’s usually self-diagnosable; no lab tests or diagnostics are usually required.
One of our editors, Katie Skelly, says her earliest memory of her misophonia dates back to primary school, citing a girl in her class who used to lick her yoghurt lids and “it would absolutely send me”. Even thinking about it now “still sparks the reaction” which is “repulsion and rage”.
If you’re wondering why these sounds enrage you so much, a recent study out of Newcastle University has plated up the answer for you. Researchers have performed brain scans to discover why this is. What they found is that people with this particular disorder have stronger connectivity between the part of the brain that processes sounds and the part of the premotor cortex, which handles mouth and throat muscle movements.
Specifically, the team behind the study found that for those with misophonia, when played a “trigger sound”, the brain region involved in mouth and throat movement was overactivated when compared to a control group of people without the condition.
What this actually means? Dr Sukhbinder Kumar, a neuroscientist from the university, was quoted in The Guardian saying, “It makes them feel like the sounds are intruding into them.” This translates to Skelly’s experience, who says “it’s a very internalised feeling” and that her response is often not noticed.
For our editor, it’s mainly mouth noises that still act as a trigger — with raspberry noises being the worst of them all. “It makes my lips and teeth physically hurt. It doesn’t just relate to the sound of it, but the visual of those triggers too. It’s worse if I can see action that causes the noise.”
Skelly isn’t alone with her visual misophonia, as Dr Kumar stated the team of researchers found a similar pattern of communication between the visual and motor regions, “which reflects that misophonia can also occur when triggered by something visual”.
These findings could lead to more effective therapies for misophonia; one possibility is mimicking the action generating the trigger, which Dr Kumar says could lessen symptoms.