Why Chewing Noises Can Make You Angry & Anxious

Photographed by Alexandra Gavillet.
We all have adverse reactions to certain irritating noises, whether it's someone clipping their nails on the subway or snapping their gum in the office. But there are people who would literally like to punch offenders when they are triggered by sounds like chewing, drinking, or breathing. A study published in Current Biology finds that the condition, called misophonia, has a common origin in the brain.

Using MRI scans, scientists looked at the brain activity of misophonics and a control group as they listened to neutral sounds (rain), unpleasant sounds (a person screaming, a baby crying), and trigger sounds (eating, breathing, chewing, drinking). When misophonics listened to the trigger sounds, activity flared in their anterior cortex, the part of the brain that processes emotion. The researchers also discovered something all misophonics had in common was an "abnormal functional connectivity" in parts of the brain associated with memory.

"We think that misophonia may be heavily connected to recalling past memories, because people with misophonia have had very bad experiences," the study's lead researcher Dr. Sukhbinder Kumar of the Institute of Neuroscience at Newcastle University told the New York Times.

Misophonia isn't about mere annoyance. People who suffer from it experience severe rage or anxiety that may prompt them to have to leave the room, avoid movie theaters forever, or even quit their jobs to get away from trigger sounds.

This is a relatively new area of research for neuroscientists, and this study does not show causality between that abnormal connectivity in the brain and misophonia. What it does show is that this is a genuine neurological issue. It's possible that further study could provide a solution that doesn't involve inflicting bodily harm on anyone who chews with their mouth open within earshot.
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