Today my friend Judy and I visited the School of Psychology at Birmingham Unversity to take part in a motor reflexes experiment, which is part of a study into misophonia.  It was a great opportunity to assist Jamie Adams with his investigations into the complex, also known as Selective Sound Sensitivity Syndrome.

What is Misophonia?

Misophonia was first proposed as a medical condition by Pawel Jastreboff and Margaret Jastreboff in a 2000 publication – Misophonia: current perspectives.

Wikipedia defines it thus:

Literally “hatred of sound,” is a putative disorder of uncertain classification in which negative emotions, thoughts, and physical reactions are triggered by specific sounds. It is also called “soft sound sensitivity syndrome”, “select sound sensitivity syndrome” (“4S”), “decreased sound tolerance,” and “sound-rage.” Misophonia is not recognized as a disorder by standard diagnostic criteria in the DSM-5 or the ICD-10, and there is no evidence-based research on its prevalence or treatment.

Speaking for myself, I have always had a problem with eating and other “mouthy” noises. I get anxious and angry, harbouring thoughts of physically assaulting the perpetrator of the offending noises. Only my socialised conditioning stops me getting up and punching people eating apples or crisps so loudly that my ears rattle.  I’m also especially sensitive to snoring, and the slurping noises my cats make when they groom themselves.

In an effort to find out more about this, I’ve been reaching out on Facebook to find others with the same problem, and I found a support group based in the USA who post frequently to raise awareness of misophonia. I bought a wristband from them to help out.  On that page, I found a post from Jamie Adams requesting volunteers to assist with his study into misophonia.

The University of Birmingham, School of Psychology – Misophonia Study

I got in touch with Jamie, and sent the info to Judy as well, as she’s expressed her problems with sounds to me a few times. I thought we could both contribute to the study, and meet up for a chat, too! We got our bookings through and travelled to the University for our testing. My turn started at 12 noon. First, I was fitted with an EEG measuring cap, which picks up brainwave activity through about 100 small sensors that sit over my scalp. To help with conductivity, Jamie and his assistant pushed gel into the contacts and parted my hair under each point. This took quite a while to ensure good contact on 95% of the contacts. While they did this, I completed rather a long questionnaire about my mental health and family history and relationships. This helps to associate misophonia with anxiety and OCD. Once that was all setup, I was taken to the test station and given a go at the actual activity for practice. This was simply clicking a mouse for coloured dots, and NOT clicking for black dots. It was split into 10 5-minute sessions, allowing me to rest my eyes between sets. Despite my best efforts, I still clicked on black quite a few times, but I don’t suppose that’s unusual. When it was finished, I was relieved of the cap and sent off to wash the gel goop out of my hair.  The testing wasn’t “fun”, it was quite a strain on the eyes in fact but it was well worth it to make a contribution to #science.

Judy then had her turn, and I nipped off to the GO Food Court to read a book and wait for Judy to finish.  Sure enough, 2 hours later, a similarly wet-haired Judy appeared at the café to join me. We compared notes and chatted for a while, and at abut 5pm, we decided to call it a day and go home.  I was pretty tired, despite strong coffees and by the time I landed at home, it was all I could do to write this up.

We are unsure if we’ll get to see any of the results of the testing or even any papers Jamie may publish, but I’d be very interested to see that information. I hope this has also brought misophonia to your notice. The more it’s seen as an actual syndrome, the sooner it can be understood and recognised.

PS – please be aware of how you eat in public places, some folks may be extremely upset if you are making a lot of noise!