A while back, I was listening to a National Public Radio program, and the hosts began talking about a condition called Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (or ASMR). As I listened, some things started to sound oddly familiar.
People with ASMR respond differently than the average person when they hear certain sounds, such as the sounds of soft voices (think Bob Ross), pages turning in a book, the clicking of a pen, or silverware clanking. The condition develops in mid-childhood, and many with ASMR report being anxious people.
But people with ASMR don’t respond to trigger sounds with anger or disgust. People with ASMR seek out trigger sounds because those sounds give them a pleasurable, calming feeling in the brain.
The woman on the radio program described it as almost going into a trance, with her head tingling and “aglow” in a way that worked to calm her anxiety. She sought out television programs and online videos of the sounds she enjoyed, and said her obsession with certain triggers had an addiction-like quality.
Here’s the definition of ASMR, courtesy of Wikipedia: “Autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR) is a neologism for a perceptual phenomenon characterized as a distinct, pleasurable tingling sensation in the head, scalp, back, or peripheral regions of the body in response to visual, auditory, tactile, olfactory, and/or cognitive stimuli.”
As I listened to the radio program, some of the sounds that triggered a pleasurable response in ASMR people were triggering feelings of disgust in me. Here’s the radio program I heard, but be warned, there are some sounds in the program that may trigger a Misophonia reaction.
I also recently received a comment on this blog from someone who seems to have elements of Misophonia and ASMR. In some cases, trigger noises are upsetting; in other cases they are pleasurable. This has me wondering if people with Misophonia and ASMR have very similar sensory conditions, but we just process trigger noises differently and therefore have different outcomes.
There are apparently studies being done about ASMR, including a small study at Dartmouth College. You can read updates about that study here. I’m hoping the study of ASMR can benefit Misophonia research, assuming the two conditions share similar sensory wiring abnormalities.
Besides the one commenter I heard from, does anyone else out there experience both Misophonia and ASMR responses?
A few weeks have passed since the misophonia segment aired on 20/20, and I have been reflecting on the episode. Overall, I thought it was thorough and accurate, but I always think there could be room for improvement when it comes to media coverage of this condition. Because we don’t get much coverage, it’s crucial for the pieces done on misophonia to be particularly informative and fair. If you missed the episode, here’s the link to view it.
* No-trigger version: How thoughtful was it that the producers made a version that eliminated all of that torturous background sounds of people chewing? I watched the “trigger” version live with my partner, and I had to yell out from time to time because there were so man horrible sounds. Now I can go back and watch it again online with less trouble.
* Johnson interview: They interviewed audiologist Marsha Johnson and pieced out some good quotes from her about the condition. Johnson is doing a great service to us by articulating the facts about misophonia in a respectful and honest way.
WHAT COULD IMPROVE:
*Visual triggers: The segment makes no mention of visual triggers that exist with misophonia. Yes, we seem to all have certain sounds as triggers, but many of us are just as bothered by repetitive visuals, such as foot tapping, nail biting, or watching someone eat. (At least those are my experiences with visual triggers, anyway.)
* Generalizations about violence: The 20/20 segment opened with, in my opinion, an extreme case of misophonia. The father of this teenage girl with misophonia played a recording of her blood curdling screams following a trigger. The mother of this girl said she feared for her life and had been physically abused by her daughter. Then, a voice comes on to preview an upcoming part of the show by saying viewers should expect to see “the violence of a trigger caught on tape.”
Yes, misophonia does trigger a “fight or flight” response, and fighting is violence. Yes, this teenage girl used as an example has misophonia and has been violent. I just wish 20/20 could have pointed out that not every person with misophonia is violent. Many of us choose the “flight” route, and many of us might have angry thoughts but are still able to refrain from acting upon them. I would hate for the general public to get the impression that all people with this condition should be considered a danger to themselves and others.
What were your thoughts on the 20/20 segment? Is my critique fair?
I ordered some musicians earplugs online yesterday in the hopes that they will be more effective than the foam earplugs I currently use at work. Someone suggested musician earplugs in the comment thread to the New York Times article earlier this week about misophonia.
I should get the earplugs in the mail this week, and I’ll write a review of how they work. I’ve noticed my foam earplugs become less effective over time, and it’s not that hygienic to reuse them over and over again. My hope is that these new earplugs can be washed and reused, and that they will block out a lot of the soft sounds I hate while still allowing me to hear people clearly when they talk to me.
Also, I found a Misophonia Support tumblr (which has linked to my blog – thanks!) that informed me the Today Show did a segment on misophonia this week following the New York Times article. You can watch it here and I’ve also embedded the video below. Please be aware that a lot of the b-roll and natural sounds added to the segment are very triggering — a person eating an apple, a woman chewing gum, etc.
There is a great interview after the segment that filled me with hope to watch. The television journalist was treating the interviewee with misophonia in a respectful way, with belief and understanding. After receiving very little respect and understanding throughout my life in regards to my misophonia, this was an uplifting sight.
I was a little irked by the phrase “for people who think they have misophonia” when the journalist described the Internet support groups that exist. But all in all, I enjoyed the Today Show’s coverage of misophonia. Hopefully this week does not simply represent misophonia’s 15 minutes of fame, but instead is the beginning of a movement to help the medical community realize that this is a serious condition for many people.
Here’s the video on YouTube:
Today at work, a colleague of mine who sits a few feet away was chomping down on some candy, so I instantly put in my earplugs. Another coworker came over to discuss something important with me. I had to remove my earplugs and talk to the woman who had come over. The entire time, I was agitated by the sounds going on around me, and I think that irritability came out while I was talking. I was short, I didn’t fully listen to what was being said to me and I tried to end the conversation as soon as possible. I was experiencing several emotions: intense anger at the person eating candy, worry and fear that I could not immediately escape the noise, and guilt that I was taking my anger out on an innocent bystander.
It’s just another example of how misophonia can make everyday human interactions difficult.
Great news! One of the largest and most reputable newspapers in the world, the New York Times, wrote a story yesterday about misophonia. I’m posting the photo used with the column because I like the way the art expresses this condition.
I recently wrote about why awareness of misophonia is so important to people who have the condition. So, how does the article do when it comes to explaining misophonia?
The article is respectful and makes the correct distinctions between misophonia and other conditions, such as hyperacusis. The article also provides some resources for support groups, including:
All in all, a great story. I hope that future articles about this condition might focus on solutions. Clearly there is no cure-all for misophonia, but there are people studying and trying to figure it out. There are also some therapies and medications that are currently being experimented with.
I appreciated the stories shared in the article by people who have misophonia. It is interesting to see how other people cope after I’ve had the disorder for so long and have developed my own unique coping mechanisms. One woman said she has a headache when asking people to quiet down. Another shuts the door to her office at work. I’m an earplug addict, although there are some times at work when I need to be listening to others, and I come into contact with a trigger noise. Just today I was sitting in on a training at work and a man walked up behind me to listen in on the lecture. He was eating an apple. I had to excuse myself to use the restroom, and I missed a large chunk of the training.
I’ve told one coworker — who also happens to be a friend of mine — about my condition, but I don’t think she realizes how it affects me in the workplace. She is constantly trying to talk to me while she is eating or chewing gum, and she complains about not being able to get my attention because I’m always wearing earplugs.