The Real Reason Some People Hate the Sound of Chewing

Updated: Jan. 29, 2020

Good news: If you hate the sound of heavy breathing or slurping soup, you're not going crazy. It's actually a sign that you're super smart!

Can’t stand loud breathing? Does the sound of someone smacking gum next to you make your blood boil? Turns out, you’re not alone—and there’s a genuinely scientific reason why.

If you cringe when someone cracks their knuckles, you might want to get checked out for misophonia. Never heard of it? It’s a brain abnormality that creates “a hatred of sounds such as eating, chewing, loud breathing, or even pen-clicking,” TIME reports. (Plus, it’s just one of the weird habits that proves you’re smarter than everyone else.)

Although researchers first coined the term misophonia in 2001, the medical community has always doubted the condition’s legitimacy. But thanks to recent research published in the journal Current Biology, we can now safely say that everyday noises can ruin people’s lives.

A team at Newcastle University in the U.K. examined MRI brain scans of those with and without misophonia while playing a range of sounds. The sounds were either neutral (like rain or water boiling), unpleasant (a baby crying or a person screaming), or trigger sounds (the sounds of breathing or eating).

The results: The researchers noted significant changes in misophonia sufferers’ brain activity when they heard a “trigger sound.” Turns out, those with misophonia have a developmental difference in their brains frontal lobe that causes their brains to react harshly to those triggers. It also causes them to sweat and their heart rates to increase.

“I hope this will reassure sufferers,” Tim Griffiths, professor of Cognitive Neurology at Newcastle University and UCL, 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.”

Dr Sukhbinder Kumar, from the Institute of Neuroscience at Newcastle University and the Wellcome Centre for NeuroImaging at University College London, agreed.

“For many people with misophonia, this will come as welcome news as for the first time we have demonstrated a difference in brain structure and function in sufferers,” she said. “This study demonstrates the critical brain changes as further evidence to convince a skeptical medical community that this is a genuine disorder.” Now, read about these other weird noises your body makes and what you should be doing about them.