If you’ve ever been tempted to confront someone slurping their soup in a restaurant, or if a person breathing loudly next to you in the movie theater is enough to make your blood boil, then you’re not alone: You’re one of many people suffering from a genuine brain abnormality called misophonia.
Misophonia, a disorder which means sufferers have a hatred of sounds such as eating, chewing, loud breathing or even repeated pen-clicking, was first named as a condition in 2001.
Over the years, scientists have been skeptical about whether or not it constitutes a genuine medical ailment, but now new research led by a team at the U.K.’s Newcastle University has proven that those with misophonia have a difference in their brain’s frontal lobe to non-sufferers.
In an report published in the journal Current Biology, scientists said scans of misophobia sufferers found changes in brain activity when a ‘trigger’ sound was heard. Brain imaging revealed that people with the condition have an abnormality in their emotional control mechanism which causes their brains to go into overdrive on hearing trigger sounds. The researchers also found that trigger sounds could evoke a heightened physiological response, with increased heart rate and sweating.
For the study, the team used an MRI to measure the brain activity of people with and without misophonia while they were listening to a range of sounds. The sounds were categorized into neutral sounds (rain, a busy café, water boiling), unpleasant sounds (a baby crying, a person screaming) and trigger sounds (the sounds of breathing or eating). When presented with trigger sounds, those with misophonia presented different results to those without the condition.
“I hope this will reassure sufferers,” Tim Griffiths, Professor of Cognitive Neurology at Newcastle University and UCL, said in a press release. “I was part of the skeptical community myself until we saw patients in the clinic and understood how strikingly similar the features are.”
“For many people with misophonia, this will come as welcome news as for the first time we have demonstrated a difference in brain structure and function in sufferers,” Dr Sukhbinder Kumar, from the Institute of Neuroscience at Newcastle University and the Wellcome Centre for NeuroImaging at University College London, added. “This study demonstrates the critical brain changes as further evidence to convince a sceptical medical community that this is a genuine disorder.”