Quirks & Quarks·quirks and quarks

Do certain sounds make you want to punch someone?

You might have misophonia, which is the result of a misfire in the brain.
What would your reaction be if you heard this man chewing his hot dog? (Lucy Nicholson/Reuters)

Do certain sounds like loud eating, chewing or breathing, nail clipping, pen clicking or even keyboard typing drive you into a rage?

You might have misophonia. It's been described as a hidden epidemic.

Misophonia is a sound processing disorder characterized by the experience of negative emotions such as anger, anxiety or even rage, in response to everyday sounds generated by other people.

Dr. Philip Gander, a Canadian assistant research scientist in the Department of Neurosurgery at the University of Iowa, and his colleagues at Newcastle University in England, used brain imaging to study misophonia. They found an abnormality in the emotional control mechanism, which causes the brain to go into overdrive in misophonia sufferers when they hear triggers sounds.  The new research is published in Cell ReportsThe Brain Basis for Misophonia

Below is one sufferer's description of his experiences with misophonia and some of the sounds that set him off. 

My name is Kevin Horton. I'm 45 years old, born and raised in Toronto, and now live in Newmarket Ontario. I first realized that I had trouble with sound when I was 6 years old. Very specific sounds troubled me, and most specifically, it was the sound of people sniffling.  

sniffling sound 0:31

I shared a room with an older brother who I felt was a chronic sniffler and it wasn't just when he had a cold. It just seemed to be all the time and it would throw me into fits of rage and he was bigger than I was so there weren't ways of me physically getting him to stop.

Frequently the response from my parents was to just ignore it, don't let it bother you. It's just in your head.- Kevin Horton

So I used other tactics of mimicking his sounds and just sort of banging on walls and just going through fits of rage, and then subsequently having to just get out of his presence whenever I could. It led to us getting separate rooms.

The sound of man's shoes on hard floor. 0:21

So another sound that annoyed me was the sound of my father walking through the house on hardwood floors with shoes that have a hard leather sole, and just that clicking sound through the house would just set me off.

So when I say set off, I mean just inciting rage in me and wanting to get out of the presence of that sound.- Kevin Horton
Chewing sounds. 0:28

And as you get older sounds have a snowball effect where the sounds start to attach to each other and become a larger problem. What started as a boy sniffling morphed over years into probably having 12 or 13 triggers sounds.

What ends up happening is it leads to anti-social behavior.- Kevin Horton

So it's trying to avoid dinner time and just removing yourself from situations where you are encountering people who are making sniffling sounds, chewing sounds, especially people who chew with their mouth open.

As I got older more trigger sounds that were similar sounding to sniffling and chewing, such as throat clearing, even typing on a keyboard -- that sort of repetitive soft sound -- it would start to aggravate me and set me off on this rage.

Fingers tapping a keyboard 0:31