The Scientific Reason Some People Hate the Sound of Chewing

We've all be told this once or twice by our elders during our formative years: "Don't chew with your mouth open!" However, what happens when we ignore this sound advice and continue smacking audibly on our food? Magically we make everyone hate the sound of eating just a little bit more. Cringe. Somehow, the sound of smacking, crunching, chewing, and sucking can just ruin a perfectly good meal.

This hatred of mastication is not, however, unusual. In fact, if the sound of a person consuming their food, or specific sounds in particular, enrage you, then you are not alone. For many, particular trigger sounds can cause major anxiety and even lead to depression. The sound sensitivity varies person to person. If this applies to you, welcome. You are part of an elite division of humans known as misophonics.

Simply stated, misophonia means the "hatred of sound," and is a psychological condition that is rarely diagnosed. This unusual diagnosis from scientists is applicable to anyone to whom a neutral sound incites an "impulsive aversive physical reaction with irritability, disgust and anger."  However, an intense negative reaction to the sound of chewing is one of its more common manifestations. 

Why Haven't You Ever Heard of Misophonia?

The Academic Medical Center (AMC) in Amsterdam published a case for diagnosing misophonia in 2013 which detailed its symptoms and effects. However, this paper was not widely received as misophonia is still not viewed as a disorder by either the DSM-IV-TR or the ICD-10

In fact, only a handful of experts and researchers worldwide consider this disorder worthy of their attention. One of these experts is Arjan Schröder. Schröder works as a psychiatrist at the AMC where he is researching the causes, effects, and possible treatments of misophonia. Understanding this disorder on a deep level, Schröder has worked to take seriously the common triggers and flight response of those who suffer from these intense reactions to unpleasant sounds.

He explains that for those who suffer from misophonia sometimes, "the symptoms are so severe that they are clearly suffering. [Those who seek treatment] can't eat together with others, sleep in the same room, or even go to work. Misophonia has so much effect on them, that they start avoiding places. And that only makes it worse."

For severe misophonia sufferers, panic attacks are a common physiological response and emotional response to the visual trigger and trigger noises. The strong reaction often comes in waves, and the person with the anxiety disorder has difficulty controlling their sound tolerance, which can result in a headache or an increased heart rate.

How Can You Treat Misophonia?

Unfortunately, for those who suffer from this condition, treatments can be just as unpleasant as the sounds of eating themselves. As a psychological condition, for a misophonia treatment to be successful, one must reprogram their brain. "It's a lengthy process, people have to work at it for months," Schröder says.

Besides being lengthy, the prescribed treatment for this disorder is relatively new. Not much clinical focus has been given to people's unexplained aversion to chewing. That is, until Schröder and his partner Denys published their paper on misophonia in 2013 and the American neurologist Vilaynur Ramachandran further researched the subject and published a paper comparing misophonia to synesthesia later the same year.

None of this means, thought, that if you dislike the sound of chewing you need to seek treatment. Like any disorder, the level of severity differs person to person, and not everyone requires treatment.

If you simply dislike the sound of your neighbor smacking on their gum all day long, perhaps ask them to chew a bit more delicately. Or you could just quietly slip on your headphones and listen to soothing sounds while you let all thoughts of chewing drift away.

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