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Word of the Week: Misophonia

Written by Science

A condition widely regarded as ridiculous by many non-sufferers, misophonia refers to the strong hatred of a certain sound.

There are a variety of triggers, including people chewing, loud breathing, repeated pen-clicking, and metal scraping on metal. This might sound crazy to many of you, or relatable to some of you, but despite the absurdity of the notion, it is not just an attention-seeking fabrication.

To a sufferer, these triggers cause an overwhelming emotional and physiological response. The sounds are blood-boiling, infuriating and anxiety-inducing. They cause muscle tightness, increased blood pressure, and increased heat rate.

At Newcastle University in 2017, a team of researchers discovered physiological differences between the brains of sufferers and non-sufferers. MRI studies showed greater myelination in an area of the brain linked to fear and decision making (the ventromedial prefrontal cortex). As myelination increases the efficiency of electrical impulses in the nervous system, this could indicate a greater sensitivity in reception to fear. The study also showed abnormal connections between this part of the brain and the anterior insular cortex (a region important in processing emotions).

Although misophonia was accepted as a real condition in the early 2000s, the causes of the condition are unknown, there is lots of uncertainty with scientists debating whether it is linked to various mental health conditions, and whether misophonia should be identified as a psychiatric disorder.

Last modified: 20th January 2020

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