Did you know that there was a new breakthrough study on misophonia published this year by Dr Kumar and his team from the Institute of Neuroscience at the Newcastle University and the Wellcome Centre for NeuroImaging at University College London (UCL)?
In the world of misophonia research, understanding and treatment, this study has resulted in significant discussion and interest. It builds on other research which looks at how and why some people find certain sounds aversive.
This study is a big step forward in the science of misophonia. Dr. Kumar and his team have identified where in the brain, people with misophonia respond to trigger sounds differently than other sounds.
This research study helps answer 5 key questions about misophonia and its biological mechanisms. Knowing what is happening in the brain helps us when developing techniques and treatments to help people with misophonia.
One of the reasons for this research was to find out if misophonia was a real disorder. Dr. Kumar states his team’s findings provide “strong evidence misophonia is a “real disorder. Specifically, using brain imaging (MRI) Kumar’s team found identifiable differences in the brains of misophonic individuals.
This study answers this common question. It turns out that the brain of those experiencing misophonia respond to trigger sounds differently than to other sounds.
There’s a notable difference in the connectivity in the frontal lobe of the brain between the two cerebral hemispheres in people with misophonia. The difference appears due to higher myelination in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC). The vmPFC sits almost right above the eye-socket, the bottom middle towards the front of the brain. It’s involved in processing and regulation of emotions like fear and empathy, and decision making.
“The ventromedial prefrontal cortex is central to understanding misophonia because it’s part of a complicated network of connections between numerous other areas of the brain. It both receives sensory information, information and influences the functioning of many other brain areas including those involved in memory, olfaction and perhaps of great importance, the amygdala (where fight/flight is mediated and where salience, or importance, is assigned to incoming sensory stimuli).”
Research in why some people react to certain internal sounds, tinnitus, has found that developing/retraining/teaching parts of our frontal lobe makes it possible to reduce the reaction of the amygdala and associated parts of the brain to sounds the person finds difficult and aversive.
Instead, there may be objective neural responses occurring alongside a person’s subjective experiences. These patterns of brain-based responses probably play a central role in the cascade of biological, behavioural, emotional, and cognitive responses that occur once someone with misophonia is triggered by a sound.
This study does not directly tell us whether misophonia is best classified as a psychiatric disorder or neurological disorder. That wasn’t the point of the study. Instead, this research points a bright light right at where in the brain we might expect to see atypical neural responses to trigger sounds. The findings from this study suggest misophonia has neural underpinnings. This is important. However, from a scientific perspective, this is also true of neurological disorders and many psychiatric disorders. The evidence suggests there is a neurological component to misophonia. It does not tell us it is neurological.
This is a question often raised in round about ways in forums and discussions on misophonia.
Dr Rosenthal (Duke University) in an interview in Psychology Today in Feb 2017 describes it this way.
“Disorders and syndromes characterised by emotional responses are sometimes said to be “brain-based.” This is sometimes confusing to people, but the basic idea is that emotions include biological, behavioural, and cognitive responses to stimuli, and these responses all require brain systems. Other brain-based systems related to emotion also are probably involved in misophonia. For example, trigger sounds are sensory-based cues associated with a prior learning history that are attended to over other sounds and elicit emotional responses that include both behaviour and cognition. This means misophonia may be a brain-based condition that involves neural systems that govern our sensation, perception, attention, memory, learning, cognition, behaviour and emotion. That is a lot of complexity, and that’s why we need much more science done to shed light on the nature of misophonia.”
In summary, this study supports the possibility of use of treatments that focus on developing our frontal lobe functions of attention and learning. We can apply the principles in 8 ways you can use your mind to change your brain to change your misophonia.
It’s possible to use train the brain to change just we need to apply the principles of positive neuropsychology and principles of sustained attention ie meditation, mindfulness, hypnosis and attention training building up the frontal lobe. The frontal lobe is that part of the brain that appears to have the ability to help us manage our sensations, perception, attention, memory, learning, cognition, behaviour and emotion.
My approach for misophonia is based on these principles and it’s always reassuring to see science supporting the principles underlying any treatment programs. We have a long way to go in finding out what really works from the research perspective. In the meantime, you need to focus on the fact it is possible to lower your reaction to sounds.
Look forward to hearing from you soon!
Kumar, S., Hancock, OT., Sedley, W., Winston, JS., Callaghan, MF., Allen M., Cope, TE., Gander, PE., Bamiou, DE., Griffiths, TD (2017). The brain basis for misophonia. Current Biology.2017 Feb 20:27(4):527-533. DOI 10.1016/j.cub.2016.12.048. Epub 2017 Feb 2.
Nolene Nielson is an experienced Australian Audiologist who is passionate about misophonia This article was first published at hearingcareprofessionals.com.au.