In 2013, Dutch psychiatrists proposed that misophonia – a hypersensitivity to common, irritating noises like eating, loud breathing, and pen clicking – be classified as its own psychiatric disorder. After evaluating 42 Dutch patients with the disorder, the psychiatrists concluded that their symptoms didn’t fully match those of people with obsessive-compulsive disorder or autism spectrum disorder. By proposing that misophonia get its own criteria in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders – a classification system used by doctors, lawmakers, and insurance companies – the psychiatrists have taken the first step towards helping doctors recognize misophonia patients, and towards pursuing research into the disorder’s cause and treatment. Despite the small number of test subjects, the psychiatrists were able to find consistent patterns. Most of the patients reported that their earliest memories of misophonia were of a profound disgust at hearing their families eat. But unlike with other phobias, this disgust quickly became uncontrollable anger – and the patients reported lashing out verbally (or even physically) at the person making the noise. However, the patients considered their overreaction unacceptable, and were stressed and uncomfortable at the prospect of hearing triggering noises and losing self-control. Many coped by avoiding socializing or wearing headphones to mask noises. But what is causing such a stressful reaction in the first place? The psychiatrists speculated that it may be caused by recurrent conditioning – basically, the patients developing the habit of disgust. They also suggested that misophonia may be part of a more general overreaction to many stimuli, like noises and certain sights. Despite these speculations, the psychiatrists cautioned that because our understanding is still limited, it’s difficult to hypothesize about misophonia’s cause.
Reference: Schröder A. & Damiaan Denys (2013). Misophonia: Diagnostic Criteria for a New Psychiatric Disorder, PLoS ONE, 8 (1) e54706. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0054706