If every loud crunch of cereal or hair-tingling slurp of soup makes you want to scream, you may have a real neurological condition — and you’re not alone.
The technical term for the condition is misophonia, and it’s defined as a severe sensitivity to sounds like chewing, coughing, yawning and more. Some people have more extreme cases of misophonia than others, and find themselves completely distracted by the noises, to the point where they need cognitive behavioral therapy.
While it was formally named as a condition in 2001, many skeptics still questioned whether misophonia was a real condition. But last year, a study published in the journal Current Biology showed that those with the disorder have a difference in their brain’s frontal lobe that causes an intense reaction to noise, and can even lead to a faster heart rate and sweating.
“I hope this will reassure sufferers,” Tim Griffiths, Professor of Cognitive Neurology at Newcastle University and University College London, said in a press release. “I was part of the skeptical community myself until we saw patients in the clinic and understood how strikingly similar the features are.”
And in February, another study found that having misophonia can impact people’s ability to learn.
According to the study, published in the journal Applied Cognitive Psycology, a noise as subtle as gum chewing is enough to impact academic performance.
“Some people are especially sensitive to relatively subtle specific background sounds like chewing, and this sensitivity can be distracting enough to impair learning,” study co-author Logan Fiorella, an assistant professor of applied cognition and development at the University of Georgia, told TIME.
The researchers had 72 college students study papers on migraines, with half sitting in a room with a person chewing gum, and the others without. They all then took a test on the material in silence, and those with the gum-chewer had lower test scores.
Fiorella noted that none of the students had clinically severe misophonia, but were still impacted by the noise.
“It may be especially important for students with higher levels of misophonia sensitivity to avoid studying in places where there are a lot of ‘trigger’ sounds, such as other people chewing, coughing, clicking pens, or rustling papers,” Fiorella said. “When that’s unavoidable, some strategies suggested by other researchers include using earplugs, focusing on one’s own sounds, or using positive internal dialogue.”
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