Lip-smacking. Mouth-breathing. Slurping soup. We all hear these sounds in our everyday lives, and most of us don’t think twice about them. But for close to two-hundred thousand people in the United States alone, common, repetitive noises and sounds — like breathing, yawning, and especially sounds related to eating and drinking — can trigger intense and negative emotional responses, including anger, and even fight or flight. This reaction is known as misophonia.
What is misophonia?
Misophonia is a disorder in which a person is emotionally triggered by ordinary sounds made by humans, like the chewing of food or sipping from a straw. These feelings can range from panic and anxiety to rage and isolation, and can often be so powerful that they affect one’s ability to live normally. According to a study in 2017, the parts of the brain that react the strongest to these common sounds are responsible for long-term memory and fear, which makes sense considering how emotional misophonic reactions can be. The term itself means “hatred of sound,” although not all sounds are made equal and don’t often trigger reactions in people with standard sound sensitivities.
In fact, a 23andMe test can determine if one has the genetic marker for misophonia, and the disorder has been linked to other psychological conditions, like obsessive compulsive disorder.
What are some examples? While we’re not experts, here are some sounds we cannot get down with.
1. Loud Gum Chewing[fm_youtube url="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-7HyVo6Y_Vw"]
Is that really necessary?
Remember that person in high school who chomped on gum so loud, it sent shivers up your spine? Yeah, we remember, too. One might assume gum was a 20th century invention or a candy created for children, but chewing gum can be traced back thousands of years to ancient European and Mayan civilizations. What’s for sure: No matter how historic gum may be, it belongs in our mouths — not out.
2. Crunching[fm_youtube url="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=py34ewy_OJE"]
A construction zone in your mouth.
There’s simply nothing more obviously annoying than someone eating potato chips. For one, it’s impossible to be quiet, and two, it involves a teeth grinding that many foods don’t require. And the worst part — everyone loves potato chips, and that even includes Chris Evans. There’s no escaping the crunch! At least SunChips finally changed their insanely loud bags to relieve us of some of the noise.
3. Scraping Silverware
Forks, spoons, and knives — oh my!
Just imagining the sound of a fork and knife scratching along a porcelain plate is triggering enough, but some people have the audacity to scrape silverware along their teeth. Although we are aware that’s not proper eating etiquette, some anthropological research has determined that that motion — or using cutlery in general — has changed the shape of the human skull over time. Regardless, all of it gives us full body chills.
4. Slow And/Or Loud Typers
We get it, you can type 70 wpm.
If you’re lucky, you sit alone in your own office, a closed-door away from the tick-tacking of the bullpen. But if you’re like us, you’re surrounded by a neighborhood of fingers tapping on keyboards. Nothing grates our ears harder. Especially when someone has to type a quick e-mail and it looks like their fingers are moving faster than the speed of light. That’s never a fun sound.
5. Slurping Noodles
A noisy tradition.
Visit any authentic ramen or soba restaurant and you’ll be surrounded by slurping. We may not favor the sound, but the slurping of noodles is actually culturally accepted, if not historical tradition, in Japan. It is thought that by slurping the noodles, you can better experience the many flavors of the dish through both your mouth and nasal passages, also known as olfaction. So slurp away!
6. Talking With A Mouth Full Of Food
Swallow first and THEN you may talk.
Along with how one holds cutlery and elbows on the table, talking with your mouth full is one of the highest offenses in proper food etiquette. Typically, we are taught as children the appropriate hand-to-spoon placement, where to put our napkin (in our lap!), and especially not to talk with our mouths full of Fruit Roll-Ups — so why do people still do it? We’re taking it personally at this point.
Don’t bring your cold ‘round these here parts.
Everyone remembers that one kid in elementary school who seemed to always have a cold, or suffered from allergies, because of the sound of his sniffles. And during the cold, flu, and allergy seasons, our third grade class was a chorus-line of sucking up snot. Despite the disgusting sound sniffling makes, mucus and phlegm are actually our friends. The creation of snot is our body’s way of gathering and releasing viruses and bacteria we catch, and the color determines how sick we are — neat and gross!
8. Someone Blowing Their Nose
This should be considered bathroom behavior.
There’s truly not much else to do when we’re sick and have the sniffles. Although we know the snot our mucus membrane creates helps to kick the virus, the sound one makes when blowing their nose to get rid of the phlegm makes our skin crawl. It’s slimy, it gurgles, and it belongs far, far away from public spaces (the office kitchen, anyone?). We know there’s no choice, but if it must be done, make sure there are tissues nearby. And maybe try out some vitamin supplements for immune system support — it doesn’t cure the common cold, but it could help prevent it! (And remember, after blowing your nose, wash your hands!)
9. Lip-Smacking Or Licking Lips
Wait, people actually enjoy this?
It’s a universal trope that when one applies lipstick, they must smack their lips together to help spread the color. Sticky foods, like saucy chicken wings, can also cause one to smack or lick their lips (hence the term “lip-smacking good”). We may despise these audible horrors, but some people actually find lip-smacking and licking sounds to be pleasurable, if not euphoric. Recent cultural phenomena, like ASMR and Mukbang videos, prove that watching, and especially listening to, someone eat isn’t always so off-putting.
10. Clicking A Pen/Pencil[fm_youtube url="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XEEFewZrDQ4"]
Whether it’s nervousness, anxiety, or pure boredom, there’s always that one person who can’t help but incessantly click a pen.
We’ve heard it while taking difficult tests, during board meetings, and have even done it ourselves! So why do people fidget with pens and pencils? Fidgeting is a physical, instinctual response to stress, anxiety, or boredom in which the body’s stress hormones prepare the muscles for sudden exertion. It’s our own animalistic way of creating stimulation, which in turn engages the brain to make us more focused.
11. Chugging A Drink[fm_youtube url="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W6hr-o6JiWs"]
No one looks cool drinking anything in one gulp.
Typically associated with college-age or fraternal drinking, chugging a drink (especially beer) as a social spectacle has existed for centuries. You’ve heard of “das boot”? Well in 1800s England, wealthy Englishmen were given boot-shaped glasses to represent their hunting and horse-riding successes, which eventually transformed into drinking full yards of beer. In World War I Germany, soldiers would pass around a literal boot filled with alcohol for good luck. As if chugging a drink couldn’t get grosser!
12. Sipping Through A Straw
Every cup has a bottom, so stop sucking already.
The iconic image: A famous Hollywood starlet holding a Starbucks iced coffee, coyly sipping from the green plastic straw. But the sound sipping from a straw makes when it reaches the bottom of the drink fills us with bubbly, guggly dread. Even worse, research has determined that, unless properly disposed or recycled, plastic straws can have a majorly negative effect on our environment. On the positive, many cities around the globe have passed laws to ban plastic straws, and now offer strawless cups or straws made from cardboard.
13. Biting Nails
Get a manicure — you’ll thank us for it.
Movies and cartoons commonly use nail biting as a visual tactic for showing fear, anxiety, or stress. The technical term, onychophagia, validates that people do indeed bite their nails when under stressful or tense conditions. But everything has a time and place, so save nail biting for when you’re in the presence of, well, no one. And if it becomes a habit, there are easy tips and tricks to help kick it, like coating your fingers with a bad taste or, as we suggested, splurging on a fancy manicure.
14. Loud Burps[fm_youtube url="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k4GI5UUeFzQ"]
We don’t need to hear what your insides sound like.
Most often caused by carbonated drinks or eating too fast, burping (or belching) is caused by swallowing excess air that then gets trapped in the stomach. When it releases, it’s a deep, guttural, gravelly sound that is a definite date- or meal-ruiner. Some countries, like China, consider belching as a compliment to the chef, and a man from the U.K. even made it into the Guiness Book of World Records for the loudest burp ever recorded, landing at 109.9 decibels. Good for him, bad for our ears.