Image: Pixabay

The snapping of gum. The slurping of soup (*shudders*). If you, like me, have misophonia, these sounds are more than merely annoying—they’re rage-inducing. Being trapped in a room of snappers and slurpers is enough to make us walk away or set ourselves on fire.

All too often, folks with misophonia—which literally means “hatred of sound—are dismissed as being dramatic. But new research suggests that we aren’t just making this up—there’s a neurological basis for our anger.

A team of scientists at Newcastle University in the UK studied the reactions to different sounds among 42 people—20 with misophonia and 22 without. The group played various noises for the individuals while they were hooked up to MRI scanners, ramping up the annoying level each time. While non-misophonics also felt annoyed by sounds like crying babies, only those with misophonia displayed deeply visceral reactions to sounds like chewing and breathing. The researchers’ findings were published on February 2nd in Current Biology.

Image: Current Biology

Researchers found that the brains of misophonics were literally wired differently than those of their blissfully unbothered counterparts. The MRI scans indicated that misophonics had an extremely active anterior insular cortex (AIC), an area of the brain associated with emotions. The AICs of misophonics were connected to other parts of the brain in a completely different way than those of non-misophonics.

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“Trigger sounds in misophonics were associated with abnormal functional connectivity between AIC and a network of regions responsible for the processing and regulation of emotions, including ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC), posteromedial cortex (PMC), hippocampus, and amygdala,” the researchers wrote.

Trigger sounds impacted misophonics in other ways, too. When misophonics were exposed to noises like chewing and breathing, their heart rate and galvanic skin response—another measure of emotional response—also increased. I told you I wasn’t making this up, MOM.

In short, when we ask you to stop chewing your gum like that, just do it. We’re not asking much—we’re just sensitive people, okay?

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[Current Biology]