If the sound of loud chewing — or pen clicking or knuckle cracking — is enough to send you over the edge, blame it on your brain and not just an irrational need for silence. A team from Newcastle University in the United Kingdom found that the brains of people who hate certain sounds (a disorder called misophonia) actually go into overdrive in response to these triggers.

Images from MRI scans showed that people with misophonia suffer from an abnormality in their emotional control systems, resulting in a heightened response after hearing trigger sounds, like heavy breathing. These noises also produce a physical response like increased heart rate and sweating.

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The study looked at the brains of 44 participants, approximately half of whom suffered from misophonia, as they listened to various sounds: neutral (rain or boiling water), unpleasant (screaming or crying) and trigger (breathing or eating).

Not only did researchers note the abnormal connections, but greater amounts of myelination, the brain’s insulation, could be found in people with misophonia. This indicates a physical difference in their brains.

This finding should come as a relief for those whose friends and family don’t believe their hatred of certain sounds is more than just an annoyance.

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Dr. Sukhbinder Kumar, who led the research said in a statement, “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. ”

“Patients with misophonia had strikingly similar clinical features and yet the syndrome is not recognized in any of the current clinical diagnostic schemes,” he stated. “This study demonstrates the critical brain changes as further evidence to convince a skeptical medical community that this is a genuine disorder.”

The team believes additional research could lead to treatments that allow people to self-regulate their reactions.  

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