First of all, misophonia is not a type of synesthesia, although it has sometimes been questioned whether it might be related to it as it has a few aspects in common, and it can be found erroneously classified under the definition on some websites. It is a neurophysiological condition, an auditory perception disorder that affects people with and without synesthesia (it’s been estimated that between 15% and 20% of the general population could have moderate or severe misophonia and up to 37% mild symptoms), and while the more severe version may possibly be more common in synesthetes, particularly those with types relating to sound and music, there are no actual figures clarifying whether or not this is true or to what extent. In any case, despite having some aspects in common, there are major differences that show it is not a type of synesthesia.

Also referred to as “hatred of sound” or the "selective sound sensitivity syndrome", misophonia is defined in the website Medical News Today” as follows:

“Misophonia is a disorder where people have abnormally strong and negative reactions to the ordinary sounds humans make, such as chewing or breathing.

It is not unusual for people to occasionally be irritated by some everyday sounds. But for individuals with misophonia, the sound of someone smacking their lips or clicking a pen can make them want to scream or hit out.

These physical and emotional reactions to innocent, everyday sounds are similar to the “fight or flight” response and can lead to feelings of anxiety, panic, and rage.”

Some of the sounds that most commonly trigger this response are mouth sounds (chewing or slurping, for example), other sounds made by people such as audible breathing, yawning, whistling or humming, and others such as someone clicking a pen, a dog barking or any repetitive sound that is difficult to avoid.

There appears to be a genetic basis: it often “runs in the family”. It usually first manifests at around 10-12 years of age.

A research study (Kumar, 2017) used fMRI to demonstrate that there is an association between misophonia and hyperconnectivity of brain regions. This suggests a neurological similarity with an aspect of synesthesia. However, it does not imply any connection above or beyond that fact. This research publication gives a good explanation as to why:

“Misophonia, ASMR, synesthesia, and sometimes autism tend to all get thrown into the same discussions because occurrences of these conditions may overlap in some individuals. This does not mean that any are manifestations of the other, yet rather, that they all may arise due to atypical wiring that occured early in development and manifested in childhood. It may be likely that these conditions overlap within individuals the same way that an earthquake may cause plumbing and/or electrical changes in the same house, but that doesn’t mean the plumbing changes caused the electrical changes.”

Unfortunately there is no cure for misophonia; the most effective day-to-day measures for dealing with it are keeping away from the sounds that trigger it or using earplugs or noise-cancelling headphones if that is not possible, playing white noise to mask the sounds, avoiding obsession or working on controlling the anger reaction (or anxiety where the case may be), although these solutions do not really attack the root of the problem. However, some research points to promising future possibilities and although there is little material available so far, there have been reports of the use of techniques such as cognitive behavioural therapy, counterconditioning and other cognitive treatments such as mindfulness and acceptance or dialectical behavioural therapy that appear to have had some success. See p27 of this excellent research paper for more information.

Some people with misophonia (one estimation is perhaps around 12% of misophones) also suffer from a related condition called misokinesia, where the triggers are visual rather than auditory. They have a strong reaction of revulsion, anger or hatred when they see repeated or unnecessary movements: if they can see out of the corner of their eye that someone is jiggling their leg or twiddling their hair, for example.

Similarities and differences between misophonia and synesthesia:

SIMILARITIES: There is an inducer (certain sounds) and a concurrent (an emotional reaction). It is conscious, involuntary and consistent, and it has an emotional importance. A connection to brain hyperconnectivity has been noted.

DIFFERENCES: It is not idiosyncratic (the same basic emotional reaction is produced in all people with the condition); the symptoms of misophonia usually appear at around 10-12 years of age while synesthesia is present from very early childhood; misophonia affects a much larger percentage of the population than synesthesia; it is very doubtful whether emotion in itself should be considered a synesthetic concurrent; misophonia can be considered a pathology, disorder or condition and in any case it is always unpleasant, unlike synesthesia which does not correspond to any of those terms and tends to be pleasant and enjoyable and to “feel right” by nature.

Links to find out more about misophonia:

SoQuiet: this site has a lot of links to others with information on all aspects of the condition

Misophonia: a scoping review of research (Potgieter et al., Nottingham University, UK, 2019). An excellent study on the current state of misophonia research with a wealth of definitions, explanations, science and research information and leads for finding out more

An article in Medical News Today with a general description and links to more information

In her blog That Thinking Feeling, science communicator Clare Jonas writes reader-friendly, understandable articles on scientific subjects, and this one is about misophonia.

More useful information on the Misophonia Institute site

Investigating Misophonia: A Review of the Empirical Literature, Clinical Implications, and a Research Agenda: an excellent and highly readable scientific review

Misophonia: current perspectives (A.E. Cavanna and S. Seri, from different UK universities): a scientific study touching on many aspects of the condition, which also makes interesting reading and has links to more studies

There are also different support groups on Facebook that share positive ways to cope and to make contact with fellow sufferers.

This page last updated: 23 February 2024

1 comment:

  1. I have a very severe case of this. I think comes from synesthesia. I not only get to a point of rage, but also it can be painful to her a loud person chewing, or hearing chips crack can produce a feeling in my hands. The more I hear them chew the more painful it gets and the more rage I feel. Sometimes the over stimuli can cause me to melt down if not rage out. Oof.