Misophonia: Supersensitive Brain Connection Causes Hatred of Noises

A supersensitized brain connection has been identified in people who suffer from misophonia, an extreme reaction to “trigger” sounds.

For the first time, researchers led by Newcastle University, have discovered increased connectivity in the brain between the auditory cortex and the motor control areas related to the face, mouth, and throat.

Publishing today, in the Journal of Neuroscience, lead author Dr. Sukhbinder Kumar, Newcastle University Research Fellow in the Biosciences Institute said: “Our findings indicate that for people with misophonia there is abnormal communication between the auditory and motor brain regions — you could describe it as a ‘supersensitized connection’.

“This is the first time such a connection in the brain has been identified for the condition.”

Misophonia, which means literally ‘hatred of sound’, is a condition in which sufferers experience intense and involuntary reactions to certain sounds made by other people, referred to as ‘trigger’ sounds. Trigger sounds are often the sound of someone chewing, breathing or speaking and for sufferers, usually related to mouth, throat, or facial activity.

Their reaction is often extreme, and tends to consist of a combination of anger, disgust, fight-or-flight response, sometimes an urge to hurt the person making the sound or to leave the situation.

The condition is common affecting anywhere between 6% to 20% of people. Those with the more severe forms can find themselves unable to tolerate family, work, public or social situations.

Previously, misophonia had been considered a disorder of sound processing. This new research suggests that alongside this there is an abnormal type of communication between the brain’s hearing center, the auditory cortex, and the areas of the ventral pre-motor cortex that are responsible for movement of the face, mouth, and throat.

In response to trigger or neutral sound, scans on people with misophonia showed that the brain’s auditory cortex (hearing center) responded similarly to people without the condition, however, people with misophonia showed increased communication between the auditory cortex and the motor control areas related to the face, mouth, and throat. These motor control regions were strongly activated by trigger sounds in people with misophonia in response only to their trigger sounds, but not to other sound types or in people without the condition.

Dr. Kumar adds: “What surprised us was that we also found a similar pattern of communication between the visual and motor regions, which reflects that misophonia can also occur when triggered by something visual.

“This leads us to believe that this communication activates something called the ‘mirror system’, which helps us process movements made by other individuals by activating our own brain in a similar way — as if we were making that movement ourselves.

“We think that in people with misophonia involuntary overactivation of the mirror system leads to some kind of sense that sounds made by other people are intruding into their bodies, outside of their control.

“Interestingly, some people with misophonia can lessen their symptoms by mimicking the action generating the trigger sound, which might indicate restoring a sense of control. Using this knowledge may help us develop new therapies for people with the condition.”

Tim Griffiths, Professor of Cognitive Neurology at Newcastle University, who is a senior author on the study and also a neurologist, added: “The study provides new ways to think about the treatment options for misophonia. Instead of focusing on sound centers in the brain, which many existing therapies do, effective therapies should consider motor areas of the brain as well.”

The team will be further investigating whether this understanding can help develop more effective treatments for misophonia in the future.

Reference: “The Motor Basis for Misophonia” by Sukhbinder Kumar, Pradeep Dheerendra, Mercede Erfanian, Ester Benzaquén, William Sedley, Phillip E. Gander, Meher Lad, Doris E. Bamiou and Timothy D. Griffiths, 30 June 2021, Journal of Neuroscience.
DOI: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0261-21.2021

BrainNeuroscienceNewcastle University
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  • Nel

    The description is exactly how I feel when I hear the sound of the guitar, especially loud chords. I feel attacked, angry, like I want to attack the people making loud – especially amplified – guitar noises (a gentle strum or plucking individual notes does not bother me; chords and a kind of scraping sound on the strings makes me want to get a gun and run amok). I feel my blood pressure rise – my ‘blood starts to boil’ – and I need to leave the building. It’s totally irrational and an over-reaction – or so I thought. I just HATE the sounds of the guitar! Not a noise made by people’s mouths, but still, the description of the reaction is spot on for what the guitar does to me, especially amplified or very strongly strumming chords. I become Pavlov’s attack-dog at the sound.

  • Robin Buckner

    I used to think I was overreacting as a kid at how irritated I got at my mom and my siblings especially when my mom would eat ice every day on the computer and I would get very angry and violent almost everybody knew when they’re about to eat something they look at me first because they knew I was going to go off on them I didn’t just hear the noises but I felt like I couldn’t take my attention off of them while they were making those sounds and it would irritate me so much that I’d be so like focused on with what’s they’re doing but I don’t want to pay attention I want and ignore it but I can’t it’s so frustrating and that’s with the log noises and now it’s double noises now like other things are starting to bother me like dogs barking people to happen their feet to gone I didn’t even finish High School because of the sounds the kids would make when I’m trying to take a test and I can’t focus when I hear these sounds I can’t focus on the test or on school no homework or even school work is someone was making and I’m not just noise that’s all I pay attention to not trying to but I couldn’t help it I would just get so angry I’d wanted like hurting I would even sit alone in lunch because I didn’t like the way people to eat around me and I would notice a little small details they would do when they’re eating like my brother’s girlfriend she chews and hums while she juice and nobody else notices that and my dad he has. He’s so when you choose he doesn’t close his mouth at me shoes that drives me insane and when the dogs drink water or eat I hate that sound 2 I hate to sound when the dog scratching and scratching shaking in bed don’t like that and when my boyfriend is tapping his foot drives me insane and so is baby crying dogs barking cats meowing a lot of things bother me but I like the sound of the fan and I hate being in a car that is off and the windows are rolled up and I’m in there by myself with no noise I hate that there’s a weird sound like a whistle and I hear my own thoughts and they’re very loud so I’ll Panic if I’m left in the car with that like quiet like dead quietness