Fury from the Sound of Eating? It’s in Your Brain

It often starts at about the age of 12. A particular sound – the sound of eating, chewing popcorn, having soup, breathing – triggers anxiety or anger, perhaps to the point of rage. This is not the mild annoyance that anyone might experience from time to time. It’s a condition called misophonia than can turn a person’s life upside down. A new study, published in Current Biology, points to a neurologic basis for the condition in the brains of the people affected.

Researchers led by Sukhbinder Kumar studied brain function in a sample of people with and without without misophonia. Physical differences exist within the frontal lobe of the brains of people with misophonia. Connections differ between a region called the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC) and another region called the anterior insular cortex (AIC). They found higher myelination in grey matter of the vmPFC.

Trigger sounds in subjects with misophonia sent brain activity up in both of those regions. In normal subjects, activity went up in the AIC and down in the vmPFC.

If you think this is a trivial matter of emotional self-control, you’re mistaken. The anger sparked by this condition can be extreme and difficult to suppress. People have difficulty living with loved ones. And finding help can be quite a challenge. Olana Tansley-Hancock, a subject in the study, explains:

When I saw my GP at the time, he laughed at me. Then I tried a counselor but in my case, that made it worse as it made me even more sensitive to sound. Now, I’m a lot better probably through a combination of better bodily awareness and changes I’ve made to my lifestyle.

This research is a huge relief as it shows there is a physical basis for misophonia which should help others understand the condition. It also opens up the opportunity for better management.

Genuine curiosity leaves presumptions behind. Good science delivers better solutions.

Click here for the study, here for more from the research team, and here for more from the New York Times.

Eat! Photograph © Joshua Rappeneker / flickr

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February 5, 2017