If the sound of a person enthusiastically munching their way through a bag of potato chips is like nails down a blackboard to you, don’t despair. You may just be suffering from misophonia.
Misophonia is a recognized disorder in which irritating noises and sounds can trigger intense emotional responses such as severe annoyance, anger, or even panic. Though one study concluded it was associated with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, misophonia has been a recognized condition since 2000. Those with the disorder often struggle to find help, however, as there are no official criteria for diagnosis.
Obviously this condition goes beyond simply feeling disdain for your neighbors’ social ineptitude, and can manifest in psychological and even physiological symptoms.
Mouth sounds are the most common trigger, especially chewing and throat-clearing, but other sounds can also produce the effects. Humming, tapping or pen-clicking can also set off a sufferer.
It’s all in your head
Philip Gander of the University of Iowa studies how the brain makes sense of certain sounds. He was part of a team that published a study in 2017 that suggested the brains of people with misophonia respond differently to particular sounds.
Participants in his study were asked to assess the unpleasantness of certain sounds. While there were a range of responses, those with misophonia rated the eating and breathing sounds as “highly disturbing” and showed classic signs of stress such as elevated heart rate and sweaty palms. “In the misophonia group, the activity was far greater in particular parts of their brain,” Gander explained, “including parts of the brain that process emotions.”
Marsha Johnson is an audiologist in Portland, Ore., who specializes in misophonia. “Most of these people don’t hate sound,” she noted. “They only hate particular sounds.”
Perhaps a product developer at PepsiCo is a sufferer of misophonia. In February 2018, the company announced a new line of Doritos specifically designed for women who “don’t like to crunch too loudly in public.” As you can imagine, there was an immediate backlash online, with commenters pointing out that women would simply settle for equal pay over a crunchless chip.
Soon a Doritos spokesperson put out this statement: “The reporting on a specific Doritos product for female consumers is inaccurate. We already have Doritos for women — they’re called Doritos.” So, a loss for those with misophonia, but a win for feminism.
While there is no known cure for this disorder, Johnson does suggest that symptoms can be eased by wearing noise canceling headphones, practicing mindful breathing or taking a walk to redirect attention. As for the rest of us, we might consider chewing with our mouths closed. After all, it’s just polite.