A “supersensitised” brain connection has been identified in people who suffer an extreme reaction to trigger sounds such as chewing or loud breathing.
While for many people the sound of someone eating or clicking a pen can be annoying, sufferers of the condition misophonia feel disgust and even rage when exposed to certain noises.
Now research led by Newcastle University has discovered increased connectivity in the brain between the auditory cortex and the motor control areas related to the face, mouth and throat.
Lead author Dr Sukhbinder Kumar said: “Our findings indicate that for people with misophonia there is abnormal communication between the auditory and motor brain regions – you could describe it as a ‘supersensitised connection’.
“This is the first time such a connection in the brain has been identified for the condition.”
Misophonia, meaning hatred of sound, leads sufferers to experience intense and involuntary reactions to certain sounds made by others.
These trigger sounds could be chewing, breathing or speaking, and for sufferers, usually related to mouth, throat or facial activity.
The reaction can be extreme and combines anger, disgust, a fight-or-flight response and even an urge to hurt the person making the noise.
It is thought to affect 6% to 20% of the population, with extreme forms leading to sufferers finding family life difficult to bear.
Dr Kumar, a research fellow in the Biosciences Institute, believed people with misophonia have some sense that sounds made by other people are intruding into their bodies, outside of their control.
He said: “Interestingly, some people with misophonia can lessen their symptoms by mimicking the action generating the trigger sound, which might indicate restoring a sense of control.
“Using this knowledge may help us develop new therapies for people with the condition.”
The findings are published in the Journal of Neuroscience.