Misophonia is a very real condition affecting some people, causing them to feel irked by sounds most others take in stride, like the sounds of loud chewing or heavy breathing. Researchers from England’s Newcastle University have discovered, using MRIs, that certain noises called “trigger sounds” can cause people with misophonia to experience intense phsiological responses. The findings of the researchers were published on February 3 in the journal Current Biology.
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans showed that patients who have misophonia experience activity changes within their brains when they hear trigger sounds. The researchers analyzed the MRI scans of 20 people with misophonia who were subjected to hearing a variety of sounds.
For comparison, the researchers studied the brain scans of 22 healthy people. They discovered that the patients with misophonia had different neurological responses than those of people without the condition.
On Friday, Tim Griffiths, Professor of Cognitive Neurology at Newcastle University, said that he was skeptical about the condition being real, until he and his colleagues observed patients in the clinic and saw how similar the features were.
Those suffering from misophonia have abnormal connections between their frontal lobes and anterior insular cortexes. A person’s anterior insular cortex (AIC) is an area in the brain the aids in the processing of emotions. It is also responsible for interpreting signals from the body as well as the outside world.
This reflects an abnormality of a control mechanism between the AIC and the frontal lobe. When trigger sounds are heard by a person who has misophonia, the abnormal connections can overstimulate his or her brain.
Griffiths stated that there is now “evidence to establish the basis for the disorder through the differences in brain control mechanism in misophonia.” He added that the research proving misophonia is a real condition some people suffer from could “encourage a search for similar mechanisms in other conditions associated with abnormal emotional reactions.”
The connectivity pattern between a person’s anterior insular cortex and frontal lobe ordinarily is responsible for suppressing the abnormal reaction to sounds. In people with misophonia, trigger sounds cause a rise in brain activity in both their frontal lobes and AICs, while in people who do not have the syndrome, there is just a rise in brain activity in their AICs, but not in their frontal lobes.
Besides noises like loud chewing and heavy breathing, another sound that irks some people with misophonia is repeated pen clicking. These trigger sounds can cause a strong fight or flight response in those with the disorder. Such sounds, for sufferers of misophonia, can cause them to experience physical effects, such as sweating and increased heart rate.
The study’s leader, Sukhbinder Kumar, said this is the first time they have been able to demonstrate a difference in the brain structure and its function in patients. Despite the fact that people with misophonia have very similar signs and symptoms, Kumar stated that “the syndrome is not recognized in any of the current clinical diagnostic schemes.” He said in a news release that the evidence provided by the MRI scans should be enough “to convince a skeptical medical community that this is a genuine disorder.”
New research, involving MRI scans, has proven that misophonia is a very real condition people suffer from that causes them to feel irked by certain sounds like people chewing loudly, repeated pen clicking, or people breathing heavily. MRI scans have shown that there is an abnormal connectivity pattern in people suffering from misophonia. With the evidence uncovered by the study, it is possible that treatments can be now discovered that will help treat people with this condition.
By John Samuels