Almost one in five college students is so sensitive to common, annoying sounds like lip smacking and pen clicking that they may have misophonia—a little-understood condition where people overreact to irritating noises. The results come from a University of South Florida study published in October 2014, where 483 students self-reported what sounds irritated them, and how they reacted. Among students who reported the strongest misophonia symptoms, more than half reported that their school and work lives suffered because of their discomfort and avoidance of triggering situations. While researchers have studied individual cases before, and even proposed diagnosis criteria for misophonia, this is the first study to estimate how widespread misophonia may be.
But do one in five people really have misophonia? Probably not. The authors point out that what they found among mostly white, female, middle-class college students is likely different from what they would find if they studied people who aren’t students at the University of South Florida. I also wonder how much the type of specific sounds varies between cultures. If the type does vary with culture, I would expect Americans to be more sensitive to loud eating noises, which are considered bad table manners.
Wu MS, Lewin AB, Murphy TK, & Storch EA (2014). Misophonia: incidence, phenomenology, and clinical correlates in an undergraduate student sample. Journal of clinical psychology, 70 (10), 994-1007 PMID: 24752915