The Sounds That Are Unbearable (Misophonia explained)

We explore Misophonia, a sound sensitivity syndrome where people have strong emotional reactions to common sounds. We meet Vanessa's friend Molly Templeton and clinical psychologist Dr. Ali Mattu to talk about the brain basis of Misophonia, trigger sounds, reactions and treatment.

AIRED: December 05, 2017 | 0:06:14

Just a note - This episode contains eating, tapping and clicking sounds.

There's a fair chance there's a sound that annoys you.


Think about what that sound is and then consider this:

How does it make you feel?

For me, it's a sound my Mum makes.

Every night she heats up this weird barley milk drink and stirs her cup with a spoon.

Really loudly.

And it's so annoying.

So I've been interested in why people have such impulsive and emotional reactions to

common sounds.

Some of us might be irritated, but other people get angry and even distressed.

Is there more to it?

Now, my friend Molly suffers from Misophonia.

The term literally means a hatred of sound and it's a sound sensitivity syndrome where

people have strong emotional or physical reactions to common sounds - like eating sounds, clicking

or tapping, even certain materials rubbing.

It's easiest for me to start with scraping sounds - I feel like that bothers a lot

of people.

So like...

That's bad.

But like... that's less bad.

And then like... that's okay.

And it's also textural...

I feel like a lot of them are quite textural.

And when you scrape a rough ceramic alongside a smooth ceramic that's a horrible sound

for me.

And people with Misophonia get more than annoyed by sounds - they experience distress.

Muscles become tense, hearts race, chests tighten.

It actually hurts in my teeth quite a little bit.

I get like a weird, it's almost a vibrational feeling in the back of my molars.

It's almost tingle up my neck actually for that one.

It feels almost shrill.

So why do some people have these reactions?

Well, one explanation is that their brains are wired to react to sounds differently.

In a recent study, two groups - people with misophonia and a control group - were asked

to lay in an fMRI machine.

They were played neutral sounds, like rain on a window; unpleasant sounds, like a baby

crying; and trigger sounds, like someone eating.

And when these trigger sounds were played, researchers noticed a big difference between

the groups - in a brain area that helps you spot noticeable things in the environment

and pay attention to themprocess your emotions.

For those with misophonia, this area went into overdrive and it led to higher activity

in other areas of the brains, specifically those responsible for long-term memories,

fear and regulating emotions.

This hyperactivity suggestsmeans people with misophonia aren't processing those particular

soundsemotions the way they should and are reacting to them disproportionately... they

experience the anxiety of a life or death situation when... it's just their girlfriend

eating chips.

But, how do we know that this hyperactivity doesn't happen in all of our brains when

we hear something annoying?

Well, the participants also rated how much the sounds were annoying and distressful.

In those with misophonia, while the trigger sounds caused distress, the unpleasant sounds

triggered general annoyance but not distress.

And the researchers saw this reflected in their brain activity - people with misophonia

didn't have the same hyperactive response to unpleasant sounds.

Though this is one of the only experimental studies on misophonia so it's not enough

to be certain.

We can find some other clues in our behaviour.

"Well everyone gets annoyed by certain sounds"

This is Dr. Ali Mattu, a clinical psychologist with a great YouTube channel.

"But for misophonia it's taking that to more of an extreme.

Where it is very quickly distressing.

The first reaction might be... just get me out of here"

Though despite these extreme reactions that people experience, misophonia still isn't

recognised as a disorder.

And this makes it really hard to get funding to do more research.

"We're not sure what we're talking about when we say misophonia.

There's no agreed upon definition and there's no agreement right now about what are the

key features.

You don't want to cast the criteria so wide that it would fit everyone.

Because then it's not something that's different and uncommon and impairing."

For me, hearing sounds I dislike isn't impairing.

And this is an important distinction - we all get annoyed from time to time, but it's

mostly trivial.

For those with misophonia it's distressful.

"But if I hear a low sound that I really don't like, low vibrational sounds really

bother me, but they bother me in my chest.

I feel them very strongly and it makes me feel like I can't breathe.

I feel like I have to leave wherever I am."

"We need to convince people this is actually a thing.

So a lot more research needs to happen..."

So consider the feeling you get when sounds annoy you - it's probably pleasant compared

to the impulsive, strong reactions that people with misophonia feel have.

Recognising that this kind of sound sensitivity exists and funding more research will help

us pinpoint why people have misophonia and the best ways to treat it.


I probably should be nicer to my Mum.


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