If you’re irritated by the mere sight of people fidgeting, a new scientific study suggests you’re not alone.
Researchers in Canada recruited 4,100 participants who were asked to self-report whether they have sensitivities to seeing people fidget.
They found that almost one in three people experienced the psychological phenomenon known as ‘misokinesia, or a ‘hatred of movements’.
Misokinesia is psychological response to the sight of someone else’s small but repetitive movements, the experts say, and it can seriously affect daily living.
Misokinesia – the ‘hatred of movements’ – is a psychological response to the sight of someone else’s small and repetitive movements (concept image)
MISOKINESIA: HATRED OF MOVEMENTS
Misokinesia – or the ‘hatred of movements’ – is a psychological phenomenon that is defined as a strong negative affective or emotional response to the sight of someone else’s small and repetitive movements.
This could be in the form of seeing someone mindlessly fidgeting with their hands or an object about their person.
Misokinesia differs from misophonia’, which refers to getting annoyed by noises other people make.
Misokinesia differs from misophonia, which refers to getting annoyed by noises other people make, rather than actions that are perceived visually.
The new study was conducted by PhD student Sumeet Jaswal and Professor Todd Handy at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, who claim that misokinesia has barely been studied until now.
‘I was inspired to study misokinesia after a romantic partner told me that I have a fidgeting habit, which I wasn’t aware of,’ said Dr Handy.
‘She confessed that she experiences a lot of stress whenever she sees me or anyone else fidget.
‘As a visual cognitive neuroscientist, this really piqued my interest to find out what is happening in the brain.’
The team asked their 4,100 participants – both students and other members of the general population – to self-report whether they had sensitivities to seeing people fidget.
This was determined through questions including ‘Do you ever have strong negative feelings, thoughts or physical reactions when seeing or viewing other peoples’ fidgeting or repetitive movements (e.g., seeing someone’s foot shaking, fingers tapping, or gum chewing)?’
The study authors say: ‘Among those who regularly experience misokinesia sensitivity, there is a growing grass-roots recognition of the challenges that it presents as evidenced by on-line support groups’
NEURONS AND MIRROR NEURONS
A neuron, also known as nerve cell, is an electrically excitable cell that takes up, processes and transmits information through electrical and chemical signals.
It is one of the basic elements of the nervous system.
In order that a human being can react to his environment, neurons transport stimuli.
The stimulation, for example the burning of the finger at a candle flame, is transported by the ascending neurons to the central nervous system and in return, the descending neurons stimulate the arm in order to remove the finger from the candle.
Mirror neurons, meanwhile, are a class of neuron that fire both when we execute an action and when we observe someone else executing it.
They then assessed the emotional and social impacts of misokinesia in the people who did report signs of the phenomenon.
‘They are negatively impacted emotionally and experience reactions such as anger, anxiety or frustration as well as reduced enjoyment in social situations, work and learning environments,’ said Dr Handy.
‘Some even pursue fewer social activities because of the condition. We also found these impacts increase with age and older adults reported a broader range of challenges.’
As to why people are impacted negatively when they see others fidget, the researchers aren’t sure, but it’s possible ‘mirror neurons’ may provide an answer.
Mirror neurons are a class of neuron that fire both when we execute an action and when we observe someone else executing it.
Mirror neurons activate when an individual moves, but they also activate when the individual sees others move – and they’ve previously been implicated in human responses such as sympathy.
The researchers are now hoping to find out whether ‘mirror neurons’ may be at play for individuals who suffer from misokinesia in future studies.
‘These neurons help us understand other people and the intention behind their movements,’ said Jaswal.
‘They are linked to empathy. For example, when you see someone get hurt, you may wince as well, as their pain is mirrored in your own brain and that causes you to experience their emotions and empathise with them.’
Concept image shows the causes of misophonia, which refers to getting annoyed by noises other people make, rather than actions. Note that misokinesia, or a ‘hatred of movements’, is a different condition
‘A reason that people fidget is because they’re anxious or nervous so when individuals who suffer from misokinesia see that, they may mirror it and feel anxious or nervous as well.’
For members of the public who experience misokinesia, Dr Handy offers them the following message: ‘You are not alone’.
‘Your challenge is common and it’s real,’ he said. ‘As a society, we need to recognise that a lot of you suffer silently from this visual challenge that it can adversely impact your ability to work, learn in school and enjoy social situations.
‘It’s a widely shared challenge that no one has ever really talked about. By starting this discussion, there is reason for hope in better understanding and outcomes.’
The study has been published in Scientific Reports.
PEOPLE WITH MISOPHONIA MAY HAVE A ‘SUPERSENSITISED’ BRAIN CONNECTION, STUDY FINDS
People who have an extreme reaction to certain noises, specifically loud chewing and breathing, may have a ‘supersensitiSed’ brain connection, a new study reveals.
Scientists at Newcastle University discovered an increased connectivity between the auditory cortex and the motor control areas related to the face, mouth and throat in those suffering with misophonia.
Misophonia, which means ‘hatred of sound’, is a condition in which people experience intense and involuntary reactions to certain sounds made by others, referred to as ‘trigger’ sounds.
The findings suggest that misophonia is not an abreaction of sounds, but ‘manifestation of activity in parts of the motor system involved in producing those sounds,’ according to the study published in the Journal of Neuroscience.
Dr Sukhbinder Kumar, Newcastle University Research Fellow in the Biosciences Institute 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’.
Scientists at Newcastle University discovered an increased connectivity between the auditory cortex and the motor control areas related to the face, mouth and throat in those suffering with misophonia
‘This is the first time such a connection in the brain has been identified for the condition.’
Misophonia has long been considered a disorder of sound processing, but the findings from Newcastle University suggests it is much more than this.
The extreme reaction stems from abnormal type of communication between the brains hearing centre, the auditory cortex, and the areas of the ventral pre-motor cortex that are responsible for movement of the face, mouth and throat.
Scientists conducted brain scans on those with and without misophonia and found the hearing centre (the brain’s auditory cortex) responds to sound similar to those without the disorder.
People with misophonia, however, showed increased communication between the auditory cortex and the motor control areas related to the face, mouth and throat.
These motor control regions were strongly activated by trigger sounds in people with misophonia in response only to their trigger sounds, but not to other sound types or in people without the condition.
‘What surprised us was that we also found a similar pattern of communication between the visual and motor regions, which reflects that misophonia can also occur when triggered by something visual, Dr. Kumar said.
‘This lead us to believe that this communication activates something called the ‘mirror system’, which helps us process movements made by other individuals by activating our own brain in a similar way – as if we were making that movement ourselves.
‘We think that in people with misophonia involuntary overactivation of the mirror system leads to some kind of sense that sounds made by other people are intruding into their bodies, outside of their control.
‘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.’