Career Testing
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Scratch That Blackboard One More Time: Can a Sound Really Drive You Insane?

Sound is one of the most important senses in the human body. It alerts you to danger and the presence of others and plays a huge role in communication. 

See Also: Surrounding Noise May Be Affecting Your Productivity

But, like all the senses, your sense of hearing can be as much a curse as a blessing. Many people suffering from misophonia--or a decreased tolerance to certain sounds--find it difficult to think or function clearly when they encounter those trigger sounds.

Understanding Misophonia

Did you know that up to 60% of people suffering from tinnitus (ringing in the ear) also suffer from misophonia?

Simply put, misophonia is the brain’s inability to process certain sounds. The sound itself doesn’t actually bother you; it’s the way your brain registers and understands those sounds that trigger the irritation, anxiety, or panic common among sufferers of misophonia. It may very well be a defect in the part of your brain that processes emotions, memories, senses, and thoughts.

This hypersensitivity to sound can lead anxiety, stress, and irritation. This noise sensitivity can seriously affect the lives of those suffering from misophonia!

The Most Annoying Sounds

The Journal of Neuroscience published the results of a study, listing the 10 most annoying sounds:

  1. Knife on a bottle
  2. Fork on a glass
  3. Chalk on a blackboard
  4. Ruler on a bottle
  5. Nails on a blackboard
  6. Female scream
  7. Disc grinder
  8. Squealing brakes on a bicycle
  9. Babies crying
  10. Electric drill

(Courtesy of WebMD)

Of course, there are other "happy" sounds--the ones that stimulate positive emotions and memories:

  1. Applause
  2. Babies laughing
  3. Thunder
  4. Water flowing

But what is it about the 10 sounds above that are so annoying? Why do these 4 sounds trigger a positive emotion?

Why Sounds are Annoying

The amygdala and auditory process complex auditory stimulation together. When you hear a pleasant sound, your amygdala processes it as "happy". When you hear a sound that is annoying, the amygdala experiences a spike of irritation.

What sounds are the most unpleasant? According to the study mentioned above, anything in the 2,000 to 5,000 Hz range was perceived as being unpleasant. Your ears are the most sensitive to sounds in this range though the reason why is still not known. Perhaps it is due to the fact that screams fall into this Hz range. Screams are immediately associated by the brain as a negative emotion, so anything similar to that sound may also be processed with that negative connotation.

Can You Overcome Your Irritation and Anxiety?

For those with hypersensitivity to certain sounds, it is possible to desensitize yourself. You can reduce the irritation and anxiety triggered by those sounds, reduce the stress-related tension, and prevent the noise from triggering a PTSD-like response using the following methods.

  1. Figure out what your "triggers" are. Find the sounds that bother you the most.
  2. Record the sounds.
  3. Find a place and setting where you are comfortable and relaxed, and listen to those sounds.
  4. Do something that relaxes and calms you down as you listen to those sounds. It will be hard to get over the irritation or anxiety triggered by the sounds, but calming activities can help you manage your negative reaction.
  5. Do it over and over to de-sensitize yourself to those sounds.

Repeat the exercise in a variety of places and situations to help yourself grow accustomed to those irritating sounds, and eventually they will no longer bother you.

See Also: Why Noise Might Be Destroying Your Creativity

The sense of hearing is a truly marvelous thing! Understanding its flaws and limitations will help you live a better, happier life despite those irritating sounds all around you.

Do you suffer from misophonia? Do you think that it affects your work? How do you deal with it?

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