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.

How to vaccinate the world’s most vulnerable? Build global partnerships.

Pfizer's partnerships strengthen their ability to deliver vaccines in developing countries.

Susan Silbermann, Global President of Pfizer Vaccines, looks on as a health care worker administers a vaccine in Rwanda. Photo: Courtesy of Pfizer.
  • Community healthcare workers face many challenges in their work, including often traveling far distances to see their clients
  • Pfizer is helping to drive the UN's sustainable development goals through partnerships.
  • Pfizer partnered with AMP and the World Health Organization to develop a training program for healthcare workers.
Keep reading Show less
Sponsored
Politics & Current Affairs

Political division is nothing new. Throughout American history there have been numerous flare ups in which the political arena was more than just tense but incideniary. In a letter addressed to William Hamilton in 1800, Thomas Jefferson once lamented about how an emotional fervor had swept over the populace in regards to a certain political issue at the time. It disturbed him greatly to see how these political issues seemed to seep into every area of life and even affect people's interpersonal relationships. At one point in the letter he states:

"I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend."

Today, we Americans find ourselves in a similar situation, with our political environment even more splintered due to a number of factors. The advent of mass digital media, siloed identity-driven political groups, and a societal lack of understanding of basic discursive fundamentals all contribute to the problem.

Civil discourse has fallen to an all time low.

The question that the American populace needs to ask itself now is: how do we fix it?


Discursive fundamentals need to be taught to preserve free expression

In a 2017 Free Speech and Tolerance Survey by Cato, it was found that 71% of Americans believe that political correctness had silenced important discussions necessary to our society. Many have pointed to draconian university policies regarding political correctness as a contributing factor to this phenomenon.

It's a great irony that, colleges, once true bastions of free-speech, counterculture and progressiveness, have now devolved into reactionary tribal politics.

Many years ago, one could count on the fact that universities would be the first places where you could espouse and debate any controversial idea without consequence. The decline of staple subjects that deal with the wisdom of the ancients, historical reference points, and civic discourse could be to blame for this exaggerated partisanship boiling on campuses.

Young people seeking an education are given a disservice when fed biased ideology, even if such ideology is presented with the best of intentions. Politics are but one small sliver for society and the human condition at large. Universities would do well to instead teach the principles of healthy discourse and engagement across the ideological spectrum.

The fundamentals of logic, debate and the rich artistic heritage of western civilization need to be the central focus of an education. They help to create a well-rounded citizen that can deal with controversial political issues.

It has been found that in the abstract, college students generally support and endorse the first amendment, but there's a catch when it comes to actually practicing it. This was explored in a Gallup survey titled: Free Expression on Campus: What college students think about First amendment issues.

In their findings the authors state:

"The vast majority say free speech is important to democracy and favor an open learning environment that promotes the airing of a wide variety of ideas. However, the actions of some students in recent years — from milder actions such as claiming to be threatened by messages written in chalk promoting Trump's candidacy to the most extreme acts of engaging in violence
to stop attempted speeches — raise issues of just how committed college students are to
upholding First Amendment ideals.


Most college students do not condone more aggressive actions to squelch speech, like
violence and shouting down speakers, although there are some who do. However, students
do support many policies or actions that place limits on speech, including free speech zones,
speech codes and campus prohibitions on hate speech, suggesting that their commitment
to free speech has limits. As one example, barely a majority think handing out literature on
controversial issues is "always acceptable."

With this in mind, the problems seen on college campuses are also being seen on a whole through other pockets of society and regular everyday civic discourse. Look no further than the dreaded and cliche prospect of political discussion at Thanksgiving dinner.

Talking politics at Thanksgiving dinner

As a result of this increased tribalization of views, it's becoming increasingly more difficult to engage in polite conversation with people possessing opposing viewpoints. The authors of a recent Hidden Tribes study broke down the political "tribes" in which many find themselves in:

  • Progressive Activists: younger, highly engaged, secular, cosmopolitan, angry.
  • Traditional Liberals: older, retired, open to compromise, rational, cautious.
  • Passive Liberals: unhappy, insecure, distrustful, disillusioned.
  • Politically Disengaged: young, low income, distrustful, detached, patriotic, conspiratorial
  • Moderates: engaged, civic-minded, middle-of-the-road, pessimistic, Protestant.
  • Traditional Conservatives: religious, middle class, patriotic, moralistic.
  • Devoted Conservatives: white, retired, highly engaged, uncompromising,
    Patriotic.

Understanding these different viewpoints and the hidden tribes we may belong to will be essential in having conversations with those we disagree with. This might just come to a head when it's Thanksgiving and you have a mix of many different personalities, ages, and viewpoints.

It's interesting to note the authors found that:

"Tribe membership shows strong reliability in predicting views across different political topics."

You'll find that depending on what group you identify with, that nearly 100 percent of the time you'll believe in the same way the rest of your group constituents do.

Here are some statistics on differing viewpoints according to political party:

  • 51% of staunch liberals say it's "morally acceptable" to punch Nazis.
  • 53% of Republicans favor stripping U.S. citizenship from people who burn the American flag.
  • 51% of Democrats support a law that requires Americans use transgender people's preferred gender pronouns.
  • 65% of Republicans say NFL players should be fired if they refuse to stand for the anthem.
  • 58% of Democrats say employers should punish employees for offensive Facebook posts.
  • 47% of Republicans favor bans on building new mosques.

Understanding the fact that tribal membership indicates what you believe, can help you return to the fundamentals for proper political engagement

Here are some guidelines for civic discourse that might come in handy:

  • Avoid logical fallacies. Essentially at the core, a logical fallacy is anything that detracts from the debate and seeks to attack the person rather than the idea and stray from the topic at hand.
  • Practice inclusion and listen to who you're speaking to.
  • Have the idea that there is nothing out of bounds for inquiry or conversation once you get down to an even stronger or new perspective of whatever you were discussing.
  • Keep in mind the maxim of : Do not listen with the intent to reply. But with the intent to understand.
  • We're not trying to proselytize nor shout others down with our rhetoric, but come to understand one another again.
  • If we're tied too closely to some in-group we no longer become an individual but a clone of someone else's ideology.

Civic discourse in the divisive age

Debate and civic discourse is inherently messy. Add into the mix an ignorance of history, rabid politicization and debased political discourse, you can see that it will be very difficult in mending this discursive staple of a functional civilization.

There is still hope that this great divide can be mended, because it has to be. The Hidden Tribes authors at one point state:

"In the era of social media and partisan news outlets, America's differences have become
dangerously tribal, fueled by a culture of outrage and taking offense. For the combatants,
the other side can no longer be tolerated, and no price is too high to defeat them.
These tensions are poisoning personal relationships, consuming our politics and
putting our democracy in peril.


Once a country has become tribalized, debates about contested issues from
immigration and trade to economic management, climate change and national security,
become shaped by larger tribal identities. Policy debate gives way to tribal conflicts.
Polarization and tribalism are self-reinforcing and will likely continue to accelerate.
The work of rebuilding our fragmented society needs to start now. It extends from
re-connecting people across the lines of division in local communities all the way to
building a renewed sense of national identity: a bigger story of us."

We need to start teaching people how to approach subjects from less of an emotional or baseless educational bias or identity, especially in the event that the subject matter could be construed to be controversial or uncomfortable.

This will be the beginning of a new era of understanding, inclusion and the defeat of regressive philosophies that threaten the core of our nation and civilization.

A new study says alcohol changes how the brain creates memories

A study on flies may hold the key to future addiction treatments.

Scott Barbour/Getty Images
Mind & Brain
  • A new study suggests that drinking alcohol can affect how memories are stored away as good or bad.
  • This may have drastic implications for how addiction is caused and how people recall intoxication.
  • The findings may one day lead to a new form of treatment for those suffering from addiction.
Keep reading Show less

Watch: The first AI-scripted commercial is here, and it’s surprisingly good

A new AI-produced commercial from Lexus shows how AI might be particularly suited for the advertising industry.

Lexus
Technology & Innovation
  • The commercial was written by IBM's Watson. It was acted and directed by humans.
  • Lexus says humans played a minimal part in influencing Watson, in terms of the writing.
  • Advertising, with its clearly defined goals and troves of data, seems like one creative field in which AI would prove particularly useful.
Keep reading Show less