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Can't stand the sound of people eating? It's a genuine medical condition

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If the sound of someone else eating loudly, breathing heavily or repeatedly clicking their pen makes you want to run screaming for the hills, you’re not alone.

You are, however, “abnormal”.

People who find such sounds completely unbearable have a genuine brain abnormality, according to new research.

The inability to cope with off-putting or irritating noises is known as misophonia. Now, scientists at Newcastle University have found that people who suffer from the condition have a difference in their frontal lobes – suggesting that it is a real medical condition.

janet leigh

"STOP - CLICKING - YOUR - PEN!": Janet Leigh in Psycho.

The study, published in the journal Current Biology, showed that misophonia sufferers’ brains go into overdrive when they hear “trigger sounds”, thanks to a difference in their “emotional control mechanism”.


Read more: Most of us prefer our pets to our siblings, says study


They also experience an intense “fight or flight” response, including sweating and an increased heart rate.

“The reaction is anger mostly, it’s not disgust, the dominating emotion is the anger,” Dr Sukhbinder Kumar from Newcastle University told BBC News. “It looks like a normal response, but then it’s going into overdrive.”

Misophonia sufferer Olana Tansley-Hancock, from Kent, told the Telegraph that she developed the disorder when she was eight years old.

“I can only describe it as feeling of wanting to punch people in the face when I hear the noise of them eating,” said the 29-year-old, adding: “Anyone who knows me will say that doesn’t sound like me.”


Read more: Got a dark sense of humour? You’re probably a genius


Medical opinion has been divided in the past as to whether misophonia was a genuine condition, and Tansley-Hancock said that her GP laughed at her when she first went to see him about her problem. However, the findings of this new study appear to confirm that misophonia is a real disorder.

“I hope this will reassure sufferers,” says Tim Griffiths, professor of Cognitive Neurology at Newcastle University and UCL.

“I was part of the sceptical community myself until we saw patients in the clinic and understood how strikingly similar the features are.”


Watch: How to deal with brain fog


This isn’t the first piece of research that has been done into the science and psychology of our reactions to certain noises.

A 2015 study by Northwestern University in the US found that the inability to ignore distracting noises is a common occurrence in creative geniuses. Of 100 participants, those who were highly creatively successful suffered “leaky sensory gating” – meaning that they had a reduced ability to filter out sensory information, such as the sound of someone chewing on food.

Images: iStock

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