Understanding misophonic connections and traits

July 2023

How are sound sensitivities and clinical disorders connected? Is there an important relationship between visual triggers and misophonia? A recent study explores these questions and can help us to reach a better understanding of such complex conditions and experiences.

The researchers in the study discovered fascinating links between severe misophonia and the sufferer’s likelihood to experience migraines, hearing issues and clinical traits such as autism and OCD. Studies like this are crucial, and the more we learn about the science of misophonia, the closer we get to effective treatment and support.

The study was conducted by researchers from Sussex University and involved a sample of 1430 adults who took part in an online survey. Their goal was to investigate the development of misophonia by examining the interaction of traits commonly found in the general population.  These traits, such as sensory sensitivity and anxiety, are shared across multiple disorders. The study was conducted by researchers from Sussex University and involved a sample of 1430 adults who took part in an online survey.

You can read the entire study in the Journal of Clinical Psychology


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How the study worked

In the study, researchers wanted to assess different aspects that could contribute to the development of misophonia. First, a questionnaire was used to evaluate participant’s experiences of sound intolerance and hearing problems, including migraines, phonophobia, misophonia, hyperacusis, tinnitus, and hearing difficulties.

Then, specific triggers for misophonia were assessed using a scale. Next, participants rated their discomfort in response to audio clips. Furthermore, traits associated with autism, sensory sensitivities, anxiety-related processes, and bodily awareness and interoceptive abilities were also measured.

Additionally, experiences related to obsessive-compulsive disorder symptoms, migraines, and headaches were examined. Finally, a series of patterns was used to assess participant’s visual sensitivity and discomfort.

Initial findings

Researchers wanted to identify different subgroups within the misophonia population and find out if these groups differed in the severity of their symptoms, sensory sensitivities, and clinical traits. As a result, they found that participants could be separated into three groups:

  • Severe misophonia
  • Moderate misophonia
  • Without misophonia

All three groups showed differences in their sensory sensitivities and clinical traits. The severe group had higher levels of misophonia symptoms and more pronounced clinical profiles. The group with moderate misophonia symptoms was similar to the control group but did show higher levels of attention to detail, hypersensitivity to certain stimuli, and hearing-related issues like hyperacusis.  While the moderate group still experienced negative effects from misophonia, they were able to function in daily life without needing any external interventions.

Interestingly, what the study found is echoed in our previous work at Hashir International Specialist Clinics & Research Institute for Misophonia, Tinnitus and Hyperacusis, which suggested that patients with misophonia were at higher risk of hyperacusis than those without misophonia.

Connections between conditions

Researchers analysed the relationship between different symptoms and clinical traits. They found some symptoms were closely linked to misophonia, while others were more distant. For example, severe misophonia was associated with a wide range of disorders and symptoms, whereas moderate misophonia was attributed to a smaller number of disorders, such as autism and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), whose symptoms are quite similar to misophonia.

The main connection found between misophonia and other conditions seemed to be sensory sensitivity, which can include auditory sensitivity. Additionally, the study showed that increased sensory sensitivity can lead to pain and emotional dysregulation, which includes anxiety and other clinical traits.

While previous studies have explored the presence of visual triggers in misophonia, it has not been confirmed whether this is because of visual sensitivity, or because of the association of these triggers with the sounds they make. This recent study provides compelling evidence that misophonia is indeed linked to visual sensitivity, particularly in severe cases. This is shown in the reports of migraines and aversive reactions to striped patterns, which creates a reaction in the brain called ‘increased visual cortical excitability’. Severe misophonia and migraines might be different outcomes of this same reaction.

What can the study tell us?

In summary, the study found that severe misophonia differs from moderate misophonia not only in the how bad the symptoms are, but in other elements too: Severe misophonics have a broader range of trigger sounds, more sensory sensitivities, elevated clinical traits (autism spectrum, anxiety sensitivity, and obsessive-compulsive traits), higher likelihood of migraines, and other hearing-related issues. On the other hand, moderate misophonics may have shown some symptoms of misophonia, but they didn’t experience connections to other traits and clinical conditions.

Interestingly, the link between misophonic experiences, clinical traits and other sensory traits is sensory sensitivity. Exploring the impact that sensory sensitivity can have on our lives may be key to a deeper understanding of misophonia and sound intolerances.

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, who is a research fellow at Hashir International Specialist Clinics and Research Institute for Misophonia, Tinnitus & Hyperacusis.

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