Summary: People with misophonia perform poorly in cognitive exercises when triggered by non-verbal sounds, such as chewing, researchers report.
Research in clinical settings shows that some people with mental health problems experience extreme distress when hearing non-speech vocal sounds, like coughs and chewing noises, a phenomenon called “misophonia”. Now research from Amanda Seaborne at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and Logan Fiorella at the University of Georgia, published in Applied Cognitive Psychology, suggests that this issue exists in the broader population, and that people sensitive to these sounds perform poorly in their presence.
Seventy-two undergraduates sat in a cubicle and read a technical text about migraines for six minutes, before reporting what they remembered, answering questions on the text, and finally completing a questionnaire about their misophonia sensitivity (they rated how distressing they found sounds like “rustling papers, sneezing, chewing gum, tapping, eating crunchy foods, and heavy breathing”). For half the participants, a nearby cubicle contained a confederate working for the researchers who chewed gum loudly throughout the experiment. Participants in this condition who scored higher on the misophonia questionnaire performed worse at the comprehension measures than lower scorers.
Interestingly, the reverse pattern was found for the participants in the quiet control condition, with the more sound-sensitive students performing slightly better – perhaps because these conditions were the ones in which they naturally thrive. So misophonia seems to have an impact in non-clinical contexts (none of the rating scores reached clinical levels of sensitivity), although we can’t say whether its origin is in a subtle neurological difference or a psychological preoccupation. But it’s a good reminder that by honouring the expectations in designated quiet spaces, we may be helping others more than we know.
Source: Alex Fradera – BPS
Publisher: Organized by NeuroscienceNews.com.
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Original Research: Abstract for “Effects of background chewing sounds on learning: The role of misophonia sensitivity” by Amanda Seaborne and Logan Fiorella in Applied Cognitive Psychology. Published January 30 2018.
Effects of background chewing sounds on learning: The role of misophonia sensitivity
Misophonia refers to one’s sensitivity to specific sounds, which can range from minor annoyance to extreme distress. This experiment tested the role of individual differences in misophonia sensitivity on learning. College students read a text passage about migraines in a quiet room with 2 or 3 other participants and 1 confederate. In some sessions, the confederate audibly chewed gum while reading the text (sound group); in other sessions, the confederate read silently (control group). All participants then completed a comprehension test on the material, followed by an assessment of their misophonia sensitivity. Although there was no overall difference between the two groups on the comprehension test, misophonia sensitivity significantly moderated the effect of the trigger sound on learning. Students who scored relatively high on misophonia sensitivity performed worse on the comprehension test if they were in the sound group but performed better if they were in the control group.