First aired on Day 6 (25/6/11)
What annoys you? Is it the sound of nails on a chalkboard? Loud phone conversations on the subway? Dirty dishes in the sink? Whatever it is, there's a reason for it. Flora Lichtman made it her mission to understand the science behind what drives annoyance and her findings make up a fascinating new book. Annoying: The Science of What Bugs Us explores exactly how we become annoyed — and why some things bother us more than others.
When Lichtman decided to tackle the science of annoyance, she was surprised to discover there wasn't a lot of original research on the subject. The scientific community believes "there's something lowbrow about it," Lichtman told Day 6 host Brent Bambury in a recent interview. As a result, she said, "the science is pretty thin."
However, Lichtman discovered that a lot of science already out there could be directly applied to annoyance. She found that annoyance is not a cognitive reaction, it's a physical one. All animals experience some level of annoyance, and this results in certain behaviours, such as covering your ears, snapping at others and other actions one wouldn't normally do. Annoyance is a reaction to the surrounding environment, and we become annoyed as a protective mechanism. "It's a way to avoid something that would be harmful in larger doses," Lichtman said.
Lichtman has determined that annoyances range from the universal to the personal, but all annoying activities have three characteristics in common: they are unpleasant, unpredictable and have an uncertain duration. Take any of these factors away, and the annoyance simply becomes a problem and, Lichtman discovered, problems are easier to deal with. You solve them or accept them. Annoyances, on the other hand, drive people crazy and reactions to them are often not rational or helpful.
One small activity has the power to drive you crazy. It seems simple. But it's not. Even science hasn't really figured it out yet.
Annoying: The Science of What Bugs Us
Joe Palca & Flora Lichtman
Buy this book at:
"It happens everywhere: offices, schools, even your own backyard. Plus, seemingly anything can trigger it: cell phones, sirens, bad music, constant distractions, your boss, or even your spouse. We all know certain things get under our skin. Can science explain why? Palca and Lichtman take you on a scientific quest through psychology, evolutionary biology, anthropology, and other disciplines to uncover the truth about being annoyed. What is the recipe for annoyance?"
Read more at John Wiley & Sons.