For those who suffer from misophonia, a rare neural condition that corresponds to acute sound sensitivity, the sound of someone chewing isn’t a mere annoyance. Misophonia—literally, hatred of sound—results in near-paralyzing anger and anxiety. Your heart goes haywire; you sweat profusely.
For the past 17 years, the scientific foundations of misophonia, along with its credibility as a genuine disorder, were unproven. Most in the scientific community, along with society writ large, were skeptical of misophonia's validity as an actual ailment that called for rigorous treatment.
Last week, scientific journal Current Biologypublished the findings of a study conducted by researchers at Britain's Newcastle University in which scientists examined the brains of 20 participants with misophonia and 22 without. All participants were fed trigger noises, from loud crunching and heavy breathing, along with merely unpleasant noises, like the sound of wailing children. The trigger noises resulted in visible trauma in the misophonia sufferers, from hypertension to sweating; the unpleasant noises didn’t evoke the same reaction in them. Contrast this with the control group, who didn’t exhibit the same quantifiable distress after hearing those trigger sounds.
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The head researcher of the project, Dr. Sukhbinder Kumar, attributed misophonia's roots to the existence of traumatic memories from childhood. After numerous surveys, he gleaned that those who suffer from misophonia begin noticing the symptoms around the age of 12. For some, it's a disorder burrowed so deep that it prevents them from eating with family members or going to the movies. This study’s findings may only be the beginning of understanding misophonia's breadth and complexity. Kumar hopes that his team's conclusions will allow them to map out more precise causes for misophonia, and, ultimately work towards a solution.
Read the full report from Current Biologyhere. Do you suffer from misophonia? Let us know in the comments.
Mayukh Sen is a James Beard Award-winning food and culture writer in New York. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, the New Yorker, Bon Appetit, and elsewhere. He won a 2018 James Beard Award in Journalism for his profile of Princess Pamela published on Food52.