What’s On

#sowhoknew: Do you hate noisy eaters? Turns out that you could be a genius…

I’m categorically not a violent person so why is it that noisy eaters make me conjure up mental images of me slapping them senseless? Well, it seems like many others, I might be suffering from a condition called Misophonia…

A recent article in Time Magazine has finally made me realise that my supposedly irrational reaction to people slurping noodles, bellowing inanities into their cellphone on a train or perpetually clicking their ballpoint pen in a meeting isn’t just me as it appears that there are plenty of us fellow ‘Misophoniacs’ out there. Are you one of us?

So what’s the science behind Misophonia? Well it seems that a team of boffins at Newcastle University have issued a report of their findings in Current Biology. The researchers conducted MRI brain scans of 20 Misophonia sufferers and 22 non sufferers. They discovered that certain parts of the brain cortex light up like a Christmas tree whenever certain ‘trigger sounds’ were heard by the respondents. It transpires that people with the condition have an “abnormality in their emotional control mechanism” which, in turn, causes parts of their brains to go into overdrive whenever they are exposed to specific sounds / noises. Beyond the neurological effects they also found that it is accompanied by a strong ‘fight or flight’ physiological response which increases both heart rate and perspiration levels.

It seems there are three distinct categories of sounds which Misophoniacs respond to, all with a differing level of response dependent upon the individual:

  • Unpleasant – typified by a baby crying or a person screaming
  • Neutral – for example rain falling or a busy environment (e.g. a restaurant or office) where lots of people are talking at the same time
  • Trigger – often unique to the sufferer but common ones include noisy eaters and heavy breathers

Personally I’m not affected whatsoever by the the first two categories. But then there is that pesky ‘Trigger’ category. Suffice to say that if I’m confronted by someone who is enthusiastically chomping their way through a chicken chimichanga then my inner Misophonial monster can’t help but rear its ugly head. Don’t judge. In a Daily Telegraph online poll 89 per cent of the 1600+ respondents agreed that sound of noisy eaters made them angry, so I’m definitely not in the minority.

So how bad can this condition become? Well according to Misophonia Online (yep, there really is such a thing) they employ a sliding scale of the condition from 1 to 6 with increasing severity from mild indignation to unbridled rage. I kid you not, there was a case in Latvia in 2011 when an altercation between two cinema goers over the clamorous mastication of a box of popcorn led to the noisy eater being shot and killed. I have it on good authority that the movie was ‘Black Swan’ but there are no fully corroborated details on whether the popcorn was sweet or salty.

Dr Sukhbinder Kumar, one of the scientists from the Institute of Neuroscience at Newcastle University commented on their latest research,“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.”

Well that’s all very well and good Doc but is there a cure? Sadly, it seems not. According to Miren Edelstein at the University of California, “People who suffer from Misophonia often have to make adjustments to their lives, just to function. The only way to alleviate the symptoms is avoidance.”

Hmmm. Easier said than done when a work colleague decides to crunch their way through a family sized tube of Sour Cream & Chive Pringles right in front of your face.

If there is no cure, are there at least any positives to take away from having the condition? Well you might be pleased to hear that studies at Northwestern University have concluded that if you suffer from Misophonia then there is a rather good chance that you may in fact be a creative genius. They discovered that people who have a profound inability to filter out competing sensory information are often creative geniuses. The report cites intellectual examples such as Charles Darwin and Anton Chekhov who were both unable to cope with any form of sensory distraction whilst they were concentrating.

So are you perpetually irked by serial sniffers, keyboard tappers and throat clearers? What other irritating noises send you apoplectic? If you are a Misophoniac, how does it affect you at work? Or do you think Misophonia is just a load of nonsense and it’s just another excuse for malingerers? As ever, I’m keen to see your comments…

Steve Blakeman

Steve Blakeman is the Global Media Lead - Nestlé at Mindshare. Previously, he was the Managing Director - Global Accounts, OMD Europe. Previously, he was the CEO, Asia Pacific – OMD. Prior to that, he was Global Chief Integration Strategy Officer (Asia Pacific) for IPG Mediabrands (Initiative & Universal McCann). He has also had stints as worked as Managing Partner at Omnicom Media Group owned media agency, PHD where he successfully launched their second office in the UK. He began his career at JWT and has over two decades of experience in advertising, media and marketing communications.