Why Some Sounds Drive Us Crazy

Misophonia triggers emotional reactions in brain to everyday sounds, study says
By Linda Hervieux,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 6, 2017 11:21 AM CST
Why Some Sounds Drive Us Crazy
Misophania sufferers often cannot stand the sound of chewing.   (Getty Images/ CentralITAlliance)

Does the cracking of knuckles drive you crazy? Chewing or sniffling? If you answered yes to any of these, you may have a condition called misophonia, in which random sounds can trigger anger, anxiety, and even panic attacks in sufferers, the New York Times reports. Now British neuroscientists may have uncovered the roots of this mysterious ailment first identified in 2001. Writing in Current Biology, researchers say scans reveal certain brains are "hardwired" to produce strong emotions to everyday sounds, per the BBC. Scientists found differences in the anterior insular cortex region and its relationship with the amygdala and the hippocampus, both tied to memory. "We think that misophonia may be heavily connected to recalling past memories, because people with misophonia have had very bad experiences," lead author Dr. Sukhbinder Kumar says. When sufferers hear sounds that annoy them "they’re triggering a recall," Kumar adds.

The maddening malady usually hits sufferers around age 12. One victim says his family chewing at the dinner table made him want "to punch people in the face" and take meals in his bedroom. In the study, scientists performed MRI scans on 42 people, some with misophonia, some without, while playing sounds ranging from neutral rain to crying babies. Also playing were the most likely "trigger sounds" for sufferers such as eating, drinking, and even breathing. Brain changes were clear for those with misophonia, Kumar says. Why those sounds spark a reaction remains unclear, but Kumar hopes more research into the roots of the disease will lead to new treatments. (Misophonia means "hatred of sound.")

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