If the sound of people chewing gum in your office drives you crazy, there’s a medical term for your frustration — misophonia, also known as selective sound sensitivity syndrome.
For people who suffer from it, seemingly innocuous noises like sneezing, coughing, or the sound of eating bananas can trigger a visceral fight-or-flight response. When you have misophonia, your coworkers’ lip-smacking, apple crunching is not just a distracting pet peeve, but an enemy to be fought or avoided at all costs. As one employee with misophonia put it, “When someone does a very loud sneeze, I literally want to punch them for a second.” Neuroscientists have found that people afflicted with misophonia have the emotion-processing part of their brains overwhelmed by these noises.
In fact, new research has found that it can even affect your ability to learn.
Study: People sensitive to sounds have a harder time learning
In the journal Applied Cognitive Psychology, researchers outlined how misophonia can hurt your academic performance.
They recruited 72 college students to read through information about migraines for six minutes before testing them on the material. While one control group got to study for the test in silence, the other group had to put up with a decoy student loudly chewing gum during the allotted time for studying. Students who said they were sensitive to sound and heard the chewing ended up doing worse on the test, showing more trouble mastering and retaining the information.
So, if you find yourself having trouble concentrating at work, it may not be you but your coworkers’ noises that’s the culprit. But there’s hope. For employees suffering from misophonia, there are individual fixes you can do when background noises are out of your control. Researchers recommend using “earplugs, focusing on one’s own sounds, or using positive internal dialogue” to drown out the offending noise.
But in open office spaces filled with chatty coworkers and crunchy snacks, it can be hard to escape background noise. So, the next time a coworker asks you to stop chewing gum near them, try and sympathize with their plight and go chew the wad of gum elsewhere.