from the world's big
Researchers May Have Located the Neurological Origins of Misophonia
Certain sounds, like chewing, drive misophonia sufferers mad. New research might have found a neural misfiring.
The sound of someone chewing with their mouth open stokes an inner rage. Ditto snapping gum. I’ve learned to navigate this frustration by keeping headphones in my pocket at all times and only eating with certain friends in loud restaurants. For most of my life I believed it to be a personal quirk until a friend informed me of misophonia five years ago.
First coined in 2001 by Emory University’s Margaret and Pawel Jastreboff, the term means “hatred of sound.” While it has not officially been classified in the DSM, it is speculated that it might be an emotionally-charged aural version of synesthesia or adjunct to anxiety disorder, which makes sense as I’ve suffered from that for as long. Regardless this condition has been of growing interest to researchers as the Internet has connected sufferers of this mysterious condition.
A new study by researchers at Britain’s Newcastle University posits a potential origin. Published in Current Biology, twenty misophonic sufferers and twenty-two controls listened to three sets of sounds: trigger sounds, such as eating and breathing, which invoke negative responses in misophonic individuals; annoying sounds such as a baby crying or someone screaming; and neutral sounds like rain.
Researchers rated how annoying each sound was to each group as well as focused on specific affective reactions in misophonic individuals. Trigger sounds indeed provoked anger and anxiety in them, which researchers located in the anterior insular cortex (AIC), the region responsible for emotional processing and perception of interoceptive (stimuli produced inside of an organism) signals.
Trigger sounds provoked “abnormal functional connectivity” between the AIC and regions responsible for emotional regulation, such as the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, hippocampus, and amygdala. They also increased the heart rate and galvanic skin response of misophonic sufferers. Lastly, those subjects rated bodily perception differently than the controls, correctly indicating their perceived distress.
This is important for those dealing with anxiety disorder. As anyone who suffers panic attacks knows, the onset of certain symptoms sets off a physiological chain resulting in an attack. Dealing with anxiety disorder often involves finding ways to disrupt your nervous system when those symptoms appear so the attack never transpires. Thus far, misophonic individuals have had to utilize the same avoidance or distractive methods, such as leaving the room when someone is chewing or putting in earbuds.
Unlike panic attacks, however, the response to misophonia is usually immediate. Hear the sound and your nervous system moves into fight-flight-freeze mode. Remove the trigger and anger and anxiety are quickly resolved. Yet that is not always possible. Dr. Barron Lerner sometimes sees patients that trigger his misophonia. Thus he’s had to use certain techniques for dealing with such situations:
During such encounters, I work to put aside my negative emotions and focus on the patient’s concerns, reminding myself that some of the sounds that irritate me are involuntary. I also remind myself that I am a professional whose primary responsibility is to the patient.
Fleeing is not the only option. Cognitive behavioral therapy is one potential source of coping, which involves finding other sounds to focus on—a challenge in a movie theater, though entirely possible at a concert. Research on treating misophonia like tinnitus is also ongoing. Neuroscientist Aage Møller believes it to be a “physiological abnormality” rooted in the minute cells and hairs in our ears that disrupts the normal functioning of our auditory system. This pathway could be what sends the AIC into overdrive.
Initiatives like the documentary, Quiet Please, and support forums are at least educating and connecting misophonics. Dr. Sukhbinder Kumar, the Newcastle study’s lead researcher, is hopeful that his group’s findings will at least “convince a skeptical medical community that this is a genuine disorder.” Inclusion in the next DSM would be a step in the right direction. As humans are sometimes immune to problems not directly affecting them, advice to “just get over it” would hopefully never be uttered again.
By isolating the brain regions responsible for the emotional short circuit opens up exciting areas of treatment for longtime sufferers. Until then, we cope however we can, comforted by the fact that we’re not alone. While certainly not a debilitating disorder for most sufferers, there is nothing pleasant about hating sound.
Derek's next book, Whole Motion: Training Your Brain and Body For Optimal Health, will be published on 7/4/17 by Carrel/Skyhorse Publishing. He is based in Los Angeles. Stay in touch on Facebook and Twitter.
Emotional intelligence is a skill sought by many employers. Here's how to raise yours.
- Daniel Goleman's 1995 book Emotional Intelligence catapulted the term into widespread use in the business world.
- One study found that EQ (emotional intelligence) is the top predictor of performance and accounts for 58% of success across all job types.
- EQ has been found to increase annual pay by around $29,000 and be present in 90% of top performers.
The rough beauty of the American West seems as far as you can get from the polished corridors of power in Washington DC.
The rough beauty of the American West seems as far as you can get from the polished corridors of power in Washington DC. Until you look at the title to the land. The federal government owns large tracts of the western states: from a low of 29.9% in Montana, already more than the national average, up to a whopping 84.5% in Nevada.
Researchers are using technology to make visual the complex concepts of racism, as well as its political and social consequences.
- Often thought of first as gaming tech, virtual reality has been increasingly used in research as a tool for mimicking real-life scenarios and experiences in a safe and controlled environment.
- Focusing on issues of oppression and the ripple affect it has throughout America's political, educational, and social systems, Dr. Courtney D. Cogburn of Columbia University School of Social Work and her team developed a VR experience that gives users the opportunity to "walk a mile" in the shoes of a black man as he faces racism at three stages in his life: as a child, during adolescence, and as an adult.
- Cogburn says that the goal is to show how these "interwoven oppressions" continue to shape the world beyond our individual experiences. "I think the most important and powerful human superpower is critical consciousness," she says. "And that is the ability to think, be aware and think critically about the world and people around you...it's not so much about the interpersonal 'Do I feel bad, do I like you?'—it's more 'Do I see the world as it is? Am I thinking critically about it and engaging it?'"
President Vladimir Putin announces approval of Russia's coronavirus vaccine but scientists warn it may be unsafe.
A new coronavirus vaccine on display at the Nikolai Gamaleya National Center of Epidemiology and Microbiology in Moscow, Russia.
Credit: Alexander Zemlianichenko Jr/ Russian Direct Investment Fund via AP
Medical workers draw blood from volunteers participating in a trial of a coronavirus vaccine at the Budenko Main Military Hospital outside Moscow, Russia.
Credit: Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP
A report from the New York Times raises questions over how the teletherapy startup Talkspace handles user data.