Mimicry and Misophonia: Understanding the Link and Coping Mechanisms

October 2023

Ash and her colleagues from the University of Iowa and Newcastle have collaborated to piece together another missing puzzle related to misophonia. This study aimed to understand the relationship between misophonia and a behaviour known as mimicry. Misophonia is when certain sounds, like eating or chewing, trigger strong negative emotions, and mimicry is when people imitate the actions of others.
The image was adopted from metro.co.uk

The researchers explored three key questions:

  1. Does the likelihood of mimicry increase as the severity of misophonia increases?
  2. Is mimicry more related to specific types of trigger sounds, like eating sounds or speech sounds?
  3. What benefits does mimicry provide to people with misophonia?

They found that almost half of the participants reported mimicry behaviour, and people with more severe misophonia were more likely to exhibit mimicry behaviour. Most participants described mimicry as a deliberate and voluntary act. Mimicry provided relief and a sense of control for those with misophonia. Eating sounds and speech sounds were more likely to trigger mimicry.

Mimicry can be intentional (when someone deliberately copies another’s actions) or spontaneous (when imitation happens automatically, without conscious intent). In the context of misophonia, deliberate mimicry is when misophonic individuals repeat the observed action consciously and spontaneous mimicry could occur when people with misophonia unconsciously mimic the actions of the person making the trigger sounds. The researchers suggested that misophonia might be caused by an increased tendency to unconsciously mimic certain trigger sounds in the brain and body. In simpler terms, this happens without the misophonic person even realizing it or having any control over it. To put it in a relatable way, it’s like when someone yawns in front of us, and suddenly we find ourselves wanting to yawn too. This involuntary mimicry could make misophonic individuals feel like they’re not in control, which can lead to feelings of anger, disgust, and irritation (read more about it here).

Misophonic individuals may feel like these triggers are taking over, interfering with their goals and actions, and invading their personal space. To cope with this, some people with misophonia might consciously mimic the actions that trigger them as a way to regain control and reduce their distress (you can find more information on this in the study by Banker et al about controllability, which I’ll add a link to).

The study also found that sensitivity to eating sounds was the strongest predictor of mimicry, suggesting that orofacial (mouth and face) sounds are the dominant triggers in misophonia. However, the role of non-orofacial triggers, like pen clicking or keyboard typing, in mimicry still needs further investigation. At a neural level or what happens in the brain, the study hinted that people with misophonia might have stronger connections in their brains between sensory and motor areas, the brain regions that control our sensing things and movements. This could make them more prone to mimic actions related to their triggers.

The study has a few weaknesses, like the fact that it mainly depends on what people report about themselves. To improve future studies, we should find better ways to measure spontaneous mimicry. One idea is to use tools like Electromyogram (EMG) that can track changes in our muscles, which can provide more solid evidence.

It is important to mention that mimicry may not always happen in all misophonia sufferers. The intention of the authors was to explain the possible mechanisms underlying mimicry that happens in some sufferers, seemingly as a coping strategy.

In summary, this research found that mimicry is common in misophonia, and it seems to help reduce the distress caused by trigger sounds, especially those related to eating and speech. Misophonia might be linked to heightened mimicry, which could be influenced by the brain’s sensory-motor connections. More research is needed to understand these relationships better and to develop more accurate ways to measure mimicry in misophonia.

What to do if you have misophonia? 

Misophonia is a real and highly debilitating disorder that can have a significant impact on individuals’ lives, and it can be challenging to manage without support. If you or someone you know is struggling with misophonia, it is essential to seek help from healthcare professionals who understand the disorder and can provide effective treatment options.

  • We invite you to explore our blog to read about personal experiences related to Misophonia.
  • For further information on misophonia, please refer to our resources available here.

This review is written by Dr. Mercede Erfanian, PhD – research fellow at Hashir International Specialist Clinics & Research Institute for Misophonia, Tinnitus and Hyperacusis.

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