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Hate the Sound of People Chewing? You Might Have Misophonia

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That deep lump of rage welling up inside you at the sound of someone’s obnoxious gum-chewing or lip-smacking? It has a name, and for some people, it may be of clinical severity. 

Misophonia—a term coined by researchers studying ear ringing in the early 2000s [PDF]— means “hatred of sound,” but it generally refers to a hatred of specifically human sounds. These are often related to eating (like lip smacking or chewing) or related to repetitive sounds like breathing or pen-clicking. These sounds don’t just annoy, they cause extreme distress and anger, often resulting in the patient lashing out verbally or physically. Animal sounds don’t affect misaphonics, nor do sounds they produce themselves

As a condition that has only been recognized fairly recently, misophonia is somewhat controversial in terms of its significance. 

In 2013, Amsterdam-based researchers came up with diagnostic criteria that would classify misophonia as a new psychiatric disorder. Based on interviews with 42 people with similar symptoms and triggers, the researchers found that those with misophonia avoid social situations and use headphones to try to block out the offending sounds, and they experience daily stress over avoiding triggers. “Patients had insight and perceived their aggressive reaction as excessive and unreasonable and estimated the loss of self-control as morally unacceptable,” they write.

However, other researchers argue that it could be a symptom of other underlying psychiatric disorders [PDF] like obsessive-compulsive disorder or generalized anxiety. Those who suffer from misophonia have higher incidences of depression and anxiety, and it’s associated with OCD, making it difficult to determine if hating certain sounds is an overlooked symptom of those disorders or if it is a diagnosis in itself. Margaret and Pawel Jastreboff, the Emory University researchers who first coined the term, have argued that it is a condition that has to do with decreased sound tolerance, and it’s possible that people experience it on a spectrum. That is, some people might experience misophonia but not be affected by it on a clinical level, while others are prone to more severe reactions. 

Whether or not it’s its own distinct condition, misophonia may be relatively widespread. In a study of almost 500 college students, almost 20 percent of participants reported clinically significant symptoms of misophonia. Again, it was found that the symptoms often coincided with anxiety, depression, and OCD. But since it has yet to be well-studied in more diverse samples, those numbers might not represent the typical figures found in the general population. 

Still, it’s always exciting to be able to put a name to your aggravations. I don’t detest the way you smack your gum, I just am undergoing a misophonia-related rage blackout. 

[h/t: Slate]

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New Patient Test Could Suggest Whether Therapy or Meds Will Work Better for Anxiety
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Like many psychological disorders, there's no one-size-fits-all treatment for patients with anxiety. Some might benefit from taking antidepressants, which boost mood-affecting brain chemicals called neurotransmitters. Others might respond better to therapy, and particularly a form called cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT.

Figuring out which form of treatment works best often requires months of trial and error. But experts may have developed a quick clinical test to expedite this process, suggests a new study published in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology.

Researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago have noted that patients with higher levels of anxiety exhibit more electrical activity in their brains when they make a mistake. They call this phenomenon error-related negativity, or ERN, and measure it using electroencephalography (EEG), a test that records the brain's electric signals.

“People with anxiety disorders tend to show an exaggerated neural response to their own mistakes,” the paper’s lead author, UIC psychiatrist Stephanie Gorka, said in a news release. “This is a biological internal alarm that tells you that you've made a mistake and that you should modify your behavior to prevent making the same mistake again. It is useful in helping people adapt, but for those with anxiety, this alarm is much, much louder.”

Gorka and her colleagues wanted to know whether individual differences in ERN could predict treatment outcomes, so they recruited 60 adult volunteers with various types of anxiety disorders. Also involved was a control group of 26 participants with no history of psychological disorders.

Psychiatrists gauged subjects’ baseline ERN levels by having them wear an EEG cap while performing tricky computer tasks. Ultimately, they all made mistakes thanks to the game's challenging nature. Then, randomized subjects with anxiety disorders were instructed to take an SSRI antidepressant every day for three months, or receive weekly cognitive behavioral therapy for the same duration. (Cognitive behavioral therapy is a type of evidence-based talk therapy that forces patients to challenge maladaptive thoughts and develop coping mechanisms to modify their emotions and behavior.)

After three months, the study's patients took the same computer test while wearing EEG caps. Researchers found that those who'd exhibited higher ERN levels at the study's beginning had reduced anxiety levels if they'd been treated with CBT compared to those treated with medication. This might be because the structured form of therapy is all about changing behavior: Those with enhanced ERN might be more receptive to CBT than other patients, as they're already preoccupied with the way they act.

EEG equipment sounds high-tech, but it's relatively cheap and easy to access. Thanks to its availability, UIC psychiatrists think their anxiety test could easily be used in doctors’ offices to measure ERN before determining a course of treatment.

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New Study Shows It's Surprisingly Easy to Make People Have Auditory Hallucinations
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If you’ve ever heard something that wasn't there—an auditory hallucination—you know that the sound seems very, very real. A new study suggests that it's easy to induce auditory hallucinations in people, but it's even easier in people who already claim to hear things that aren't there. The research was published in the journal Science.

Co-author Al Powers is a psychiatric researcher at Yale. Speaking in a study, he said hallucinations “…may arise from an imbalance between our expectations about the environment and the information we get from our senses.”

In other words, he says, "You may perceive what you expect, not what your senses are telling you."

Powers and his colleagues recruited 59 people to help them test that hypothesis. There were four groups of participants: people who heard voices and had been diagnosed with psychosis; people who had been diagnosed with psychosis but didn’t hear voices; people who heard voices but had not been diagnosed with any mental illness (we'll come back to that in a moment); and people who just plain didn't hear voices.

The third group was an unusual one: 15 self-professed psychics. These participants said that they heard voices every day, but unlike people in the first group—those diagnosed with psychosis who heard voices—they weren't bothered by the voices they claimed to hear. In fact, they took them to be communications from supernatural forces or entities.

All the participants then underwent brain scans. While they were in the scanner, the researchers used a combination of sounds and images to trick their brains into producing auditory hallucinations. First, participants were shown a checkerboard and played a sound. Then they were told to listen for the sound. Sometimes it played when the checkerboard appeared. Sometimes it didn't play at all, but the checkerboard showed, which led their brains to expect the sound would be played.

Members of all four groups experienced the hallucinations, hearing noises even in the silence. Their brain scans showed that they really were "hearing" the nonexistent sounds.

Unsurprisingly, the two groups of hallucination-prone people were more susceptible to hearing things. But when they were told that there had in fact been no sound, people with psychosis were less likely to believe it. 

The authors say this difference could potentially help doctors spot, diagnose, and treat psychosis in their patients before it becomes severe.

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