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If You Get Annoyed At The Sound Of Other People Chewing, Here's The Unique Way Your Brain Processes Things

Photo: Sandra Seitamaa on Unsplash
If The Sound Of Chewing Annoys You, You're Basically A Creative Genius

You're in a darkened movie theater in the middle of a especially exciting and interesting film, but all you can focus on is the person behind you, who's chewing loudly on their popcorn.

The popcorn chewer finishes up, but now it seems like the woman next you is the loudest nacho-eater on the planet.

You spend the rest of your time until the movie ends feeling absolutely enraged and in disbelief that people can be so rude and ill-mannered. You should have just stayed home with Netflix, like you usually do for this exact reason.

If this experience sounds familiar, you may have a condition known as misophonia.

Misophonia is defined as the hatred of sound, although it should be noted that people with misophonia don't literally hate all sound, but rather, they are highly senstive and easily irritated by certain sounds, the specifics of which varies by individual.

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In medical terms, it can be explained as a disorder "in which certain sounds trigger emotional or physiological responses that some might perceive as unreasonable given the circumstance."

This condition has yet to be widely studied, is not currently classified as a psychiatric or medical disorder and does not yet qualify for a diagnosis under the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM 5).

Regardless, research does indicate that the symptoms experienced by people with misophonia are real. Many say their symptoms began when they were somewhere between the ages of 9 to 13.

The team behind one study at the University of Amsterdam Academic Medical Center's Department of Psychology identified this list of sounds as the most common triggers:

  • Eating-related sounds like lip-smacking (81%)
  • Loud breathing or nose sounds (64.3%)
  • Typing on a keyboard or pen-clicking sounds (59.5%)

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But while the condition can certainly be distressing, there is some good news for those who have it.

Psychologists believe the way people with misophonia process sensory information could be strongly linked to divergent thinking and real-world creative achievement.

This means hyper-sensitivity to sound may actually be a key to better understanding the genius of people like Charles Darwin, Franz Kafka, Anton Chekhov, and Marcel Proust — each of whom is believed to have had misophonia.

Lead scientist Darya L. Zabelina Ph.D., explains that a particular type of atypical attention — leaky sensory gating — fosters creativity because it reduces the ability to ignore "irrelevant' sensory information."

"Real-world creative achievers," she says, "appear to have reduced filtering of sensory information, which may be the mechanism for their wider focus on a larger range of stimuli, and their ability to make connections between distantly related concepts or ideas."

Researchers are only beginning to fully understand the science behind misophonia, but early data suggests a hyperconnectivity between the auditory system and the limbic system, the part of the brain responsible for regulating emotion, behavior, motivation, long-term memory, and smell.

And given that many people diagnosed obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), anxiety and Tourette Syndrome also experience hypersensitivity to sound, possible connections and reasons for overlap with these disorder are still being explored.

When it comes to dealing with misophonia, well, naturally, creative thinking is required.

People who suffer from misophonia must think outside the box when coming up with ways to filter out annoying sounds.

Perhaps, the next time you're deeply annoyed that your co-worker or spouse is making a ridiculous amount of noise chewing their granola bar right next to you, try reminding yourself that you're a creative genius and they, unphased by your own popcorn crunching, are obviously not.

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Christine Schoenwald is a writer published in The Los Angeles Times, Salon, Woman's Day, Purple Clover, Bustle. She is a regular contributor to Ravishly and YourTango. Check out her website or her Facebook page.

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