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Misophonia: The Sensitivity to Sound That May Make You More Creative

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Today, we’re going to talk about something everyone has done. Some people hate it while some people are oblivious to it. But everyone can relate to it in one way or another. When was the last time you were completely put off your meal by the sound of someone’s chewing? Was it a family member at the dinner table or that co-worker a couple of cubicles over? We’re asking because, if chewing sounds annoy you, scientists are claiming you may be smarter and more creative than others!

Misophonia: Do You Have A ‘Hatred of Sound’?

In the year 2000, the term ‘misophonia’ was coined to describe people who have a strong sensitivity to sound. You may have also heard this condition referred to as ‘select sound sensitivity syndrome’ or ‘sound-rage.’[1,2] If you have misophonia, you are what’s called a misophonic. As defined in a 2013 Frontiers in Human Neuroscience study:[3]

“Misophonics report anxiety, panic, and rage when exposed to trigger sounds, compromising their ability to complete everyday tasks and engage in healthy and normal social interactions.”

This Is What a Misophonic Episode Can Do to You

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During an episode of misophonia, sensitivity to sound, specific sounds, can trigger a part of your brain that initiates your fight-or-flight response. In this moment, your body releases adrenaline and cortisone (i.e., stress hormones) that increase your heart rate and alertness.[4]

So far, being a misophonia sufferer doesn’t sound too positive. However, a study published by Northwestern University suggests that, if you’re a misophonic, you may have a significantly higher creative capacity than people who are not. This is all thanks to something called ‘leaky’ sensory gating.[5]

Wait, What Is ‘Leaky’ Sensory Gating?

Because more creative people tend to lack the ability to filter out background noise, sounds such as chewing, slurping and pen-clicking can be extremely distracting. In short, some people are more affected by the daily bombardment of sensory information – or have ‘leakier’ sensory filters.[6]

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So, how exactly does being misophonic benefit the creative process?

Darya Zabelina, the study’s lead author, claims it has to do with divergent thinking. This is the thought process people use to generate creative ideas and explore unique ways to solve problems. However, the difference between misophonics and ‘normal’ people is that the latter are better at blocking out external sounds, i.e. they’re less ‘leaky.’[5] This helps them to filter out those external chewing, slurping, and clicking noises which allows them to generate more ideas.

You may be thinking that people with misophonia are at a disadvantage since they lack the ability to filter out irrelevant sounds and, therefore, can’t complete creative tasks. On the contrary, the study’s findings suggest that creative achievement is actually associated with more ‘leaky’ sensory gating. According to Zabelina, this is because people who cannot filter out background noises can actually incorporate a much broader range of focus and stimuli into their thinking.[5]

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Do You Think You Have Misophonia?

If you have ‘leaky’ sensory gating, a sensitivity to sound and get easily distracted, this study suggests you might actually be a creative genius!

4 Strategies for Coping with Misophonia

The misophonic life, creative or not, can be challenging. In case you do have misophonia, these coping strategies may come in handy at home, work, anywhere really![7]

  1. Always have a set of earphones on you. This will help you plug-in and drown out all irrelevant sounds and ensure you’re only hearing sounds you know you can be productive with.
  2. Put some background noise on when you eat. This will help you be less susceptible trigger sounds such as chewing.
  3. Separate the sound from the person. This will help you realize that it’s your misophonia acting up and not the person trying to intentionally drive you crazy.
  4. Know the science behind your misophonia. Like the suggestion above, this should help redirect your frustration toward the sound or person and remind you that the episode will pass.

[1] Bruxner, G. (2015). ‘Mastication rage’: a review of misophonia – an under-recognised symptom of psychiatric relevance? Australasian Psychiatry, 24(2), 195-197. doi:10.1177/1039856215613010

[2] Cavanna, A. E., & Seri, S. (2015). Misophonia: current perspectives. Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment,2117. doi:10.2147/ndt.s81438

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[3] Edelstein, M., Brang, D., Rouw, R., & Ramachandran, V. S. (2013). Misophonia: physiological investigations and case descriptions. Retrieved December 04, 2017, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3691507/

[4] 8 Misophonia Coping Strategies. (2017, June 21). Retrieved December 04, 2017, from https://www.allergictosound.com/articles/misophonia-coping-strategies/

[5] Creativity and sensory gating indexed by the P50: Selective versus leaky sensory gating in divergent thinkers and creative achievers. (2015, January 23). Retrieved December 04, 2017, from http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S002839321500041X

[6] March 03, 2015 | By Hilary Hurd Anyaso. (n.d.). Northwestern Now. Retrieved December 04, 2017, from https://news.northwestern.edu/stories/2015/03/creative-genius-driven-by-distraction

[7] 8 Misophonia Coping Strategies. (2017, June 21). Retrieved December 04, 2017, from https://www.allergictosound.com/articles/misophonia-coping-strategies/

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