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Scientists Explain Why Some Sounds Drive People Crazy

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While most people are annoyed by some sounds – like a timer constantly beeping – others find them incredibly unbearable to listen to. New research suggests that this may be caused by some brain abnormalities.

People with an intense hatred of certain sounds, like loud chewing or incessant pen-clicking, have a disorder known as misophonia. This condition can trigger a strong, immediate “fight or flight” reaction in those who have it, CBS News reports.

Tim Griffiths, senior author on the study and a professor of cognitive neurology at Newcastle University and University College London in the United Kingdom, says,

I hope this will reassure sufferers. I was part of the skeptical community myself until we saw patients in the clinic and understood how strikingly similar the features are.

For the study, Griffiths and his team scanned the brains of 20 people with misophonia, and scanned the brains of 22 healthy people for comparison. Among those who showed an aversion to specific sounds, the brain scans showed an abnormality in their emotional control mechanism that pushes their brains into an overdrive when there are trigger sounds.

The scans also showed that the brain activity in people with misophpnia come from a different connectivity pattern in the frontal lobe. This area usually tamps down on abnormal reactions to sounds, the researchers state.

Also, the scientists found that trigger sounds could provoke physical responses, like a faster heart rate or sweating.

Griffiths says these findings can hopefully help develop treatments for the condition, and encourage scientists to look for similar changes in brain activity. This study could likewise lead others to look at disorders associated with “abnormal emotional reactions.”

Sukhbinder Kumar, co-lead on the study, says, “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.” Kumar is from the Institute of Neuroscience at Newcastle University and University College London.

People with misophonia have similar symptoms, Kumar explains. “Yet, the syndrome is not recognized in any of the current clinical diagnostic schemes. This study demonstrates the critical brain changes as further evidence to convince a skeptical medical community that this is a genuine disorder.”

He adds, “My hope is to identify the brain signature of the trigger sounds — those signatures can be used for treatment, such as for neuro-feedback for example, where people can self-regulate their reactions by looking at what kind of brain activity is being produced.”

The study was published in Current Biology.

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