Study Reveals Misophonia Sufferers May Be More Prone to Creative Genius

by | Jun 15, 2015 | Articles | 32 comments

Misophonia Creative Genius

Finally, a scientific misophonia study which has yielded some positive results.

A recent study by Northwestern University found that misophonia sufferers may be significantly more creatively talented than ‘normal’ folk thanks to something called ‘leaky’ sensory gating’.

You view see the full report here (warning: mostly impenetrable)

Despite being a severe misophonia sufferer myself, I found it hard to decode the report (I must have a very particular form of creative, misophonic genius). However, here are some of the key findings from the study in italics and my layman’s terms interpretation below:

“Creative achievement is associated with “leaky” sensory gating”

This will sound strange, contrary even, but evidence suggests that talented creatives tend to lack the ability to filter out irrelevant sounds and/or images.

In other words, the creative achiever’s sensory filters are ‘leaky’ and they’re easily distracted by what’s going on around them.

For the misophonia sufferer this is the brain-pummeling sound of someone licking their lips… or a work colleague clicking their pen.

While this brain rage can be a burden in almost all scenerios it also endows us with the propensity to process ideas outside of the conventional focus. And this is where our superhuman skills come into play.

“Divergent thinking is associated with selective sensory gating”

Here’s where it gets a little more complex.

When we talk about ‘divergent thinking’, we’re talking about the thought process used to explore different possibilities and solutions. In other words to generate a quantity of different creative ideas.

You’d be forgiven for thinking that this might be the most essential component for creativity. While it’s certainly needed in the creative process, it’s not the key ingredient and there’s something that sets apart people with “leaky” sensory gates and ‘normal’ people.

‘Normal’ people have more developed selective sensory gating, which means that they are better at filtering out stuff (for example noise and other distractions) and generating lots of different ideas.

Sounds like a benefit in the favour of the normals so far, but there’s a vital caveat…

“Divergent thinking and creative achievement have different neural mechanisms of sensory gating.”

In other words there’s a difference between having the ability to generate lots of creative ideas and creative achievement itself.

The study finds that ‘real world creative achievement’ is associated more with ‘leaky’ sensory gating. The idea being that someone with ‘leaky’ sensory gating is able to incorporate a much wider range or focus and stimuli in their thinking.

Obviously a misophonia sufferer is at the hyper end of the ‘leaky’ sensory gating scale. They’re distracted by certain noises to the point of extreme. I would go on to add at this point, that the findings of this study should almost certainly extend to misokinesia sufferers, who are distracted by specific movements.

There were only 100 participants in this particular study, but nonetheless it’s a promising start and will hopefully provide impetus for further research.

As Zabelina, a Ph.D candidate at Northwestern told Science Daily: “If funnelled in the right direction, these sensitivities can make life more rich and meaningful, giving experiences more subtlety.”

I’m interested to hear if how you feel about the findings of this study. Do you see yourself as a creative person? Do you find it hard to focus? When you’re ‘in the zone’ are you surprised at what you’re able to achieve?

32 Comments

  1. Rachel

    This is a very interesting article. Of course, there are many different types of creativity. There are many different arts that I believe I excel at, and others that I most definitely do not. I take a credited engineering class that is geared towards creative minds, and I do well in it. I also write music and even wrote my middle school’s song for the year a couple years ago. However, these things don’t make me feel any more creative than others. What I really can do that I feel sets me apart is choreograph. I’m a dancer, and when I put my earphones in (and block out other sounds), I can see a dance unfolding in my mind. I’ve choreographed group dances before and can improv to just about anything. Of course, there are also arts that I’m not so great at. I might be one of the worst drawers in the world. I can’t paint, or do any sort of physical artwork. I’m not an actress by any means either. But it’s a good feeling to know that something good can still come out of something so evil. Thanks for sharing this!

    Reply
  2. Allergic to Sound

    Thanks Rachel, that’s really interesting. I’ve personally found that I’m quite good at choreographing certain creative projects at work as well (although nothing as cool as dancing!). I wonder it that’s a feature of this – a developed ability to grasp and develop the bigger picture in a given project – and the path towards it.

    Reply
    • Rachael

      Hi,
      I found this post so so interesting. I am currently studying dance with psychology at Bath Spa university and am undertaking my dissertation. Firstly, I was looking to discuss a project that focuses on the relationships between creativity and mental health. My project then changed to look at Misophonia and the bodies reaction to ‘annoying’ anger and fear provoking sounds.
      This article ties the two areas in together really well and I would love to draw on this discussion for my dissertation.
      I want to create a short choreography/performance work/installation that showcases Misophonia and the creative mind. Any extra information, photographs, blogs, movement ideas, music/compositions etc would be hugely appreciated and I would refer to this site within my work.
      Thank-you for this insightful article.

      Reply
      • Allergic to Sound

        Hi Rachael, thanks for your comment. This sounds wonderful, what a good idea. All the info I have is on this site, but if you need something specific, let me know and I’ll do my best to help (there’s a contact form on the homepage)

        Reply
  3. Rachel f

    I get extremely frustrated with eating,breathing and other noises. I am extremely creative I am an artist and love photography. Pretty much anything creative I love.
    I felt this article was spot on for me!

    Reply
    • Allergic to Sound

      Thanks Rachel! I suspect we may be a creative bunch. I’m a writer and designer and love photography as well. My aim to try and gather a large enough group of us via the Allergic to Sound Twitter/Forum/Email list (not sure which will be the best vehicle yet) and start doing some online surveys to see if we can identify any trends. It would be great to know exactly where are misophonic superpowers lie.

      Reply
  4. Tiffany

    This article and information is really amazing. I am a ceramic artist and from and early age probably seven upwards I had fits where I would black out if I became over loaded with too many different sounds. I’m a little different from what you have mentioned as it is not really human noise but can be a selection of several conflicting sounds, a loud tv, some one talking and music and I go into over load. I no longer have fits but I become gripped with a screaming panic and have to run and breath deeply if I encounter this situation. I create very decorative ceramics and have found the only way I can really focus is to listen to music with headphones on. I choose different music forms to suit what technique I’m using and cannot work any other way or my mind will not focus. I would be interested to know if any one else has this form of what I think is the condition your mentioning.

    Reply
    • Allergic to Sound

      Hi Tiffany, thank you so much for your kind words. I’d love to see your work. Have you been to see your GP about the fits, black outs and panic attacks? It might be worth reading up on Sensory Processing Disorder and Hyperacusis as well. In answer to your question I personally find that music (the right music!) can be incredibly helpful and can transform the way I work.

      Reply
      • Tiffany

        Thanks for your reply. I no longer suffer from the fits so that’s great and I control situations that are difficult for me so life is pretty good. You can have a look at my ceramics on http://www.tiffanyscullceramics.com and you will understand why, like your self I need to plug in those headphone!

        Reply
        • Allergic to Sound

          Tiffany, your work is stunning! Thanks so much for sharing

          Reply
  5. Alexandre

    I love it how everybody feels they re creative after reading such article.

    Reply
  6. Roddy Clenaghan

    So… misophonia is the price you have to pay for being a creative person. I am a working graphic designer, I’m a painter, a gardener and a semi-professional musician. You could say I’m an all-round creative person and pretty much everything I do has a creative association. A couple of months ago I was diagnosed as suffering from misophonia by the tinnitus specialist at my local hospital, although I knew what it was before I went. She was great, very understanding and we laughed a lot about my ‘triggers’ and how I reacted to them. She wrote a full page letter to my GP explaining the ‘illness’ and how badly it was affecting me and the way I was able (or not able) to live my life. Unfortunately it stopped right there. There was no treatment available and all they suggested was that I self-referred myself for OCD treatment. I wouldn’t know where to start… Reading about its link to creative personalities has been a big help as it has given me something to associate it with and some kind of reasoning behind it. Thanks for the article, I’ll look forward to exploring other articles here.

    Reply
    • Allergic to Sound

      Hi Roddy, it’s great (and I think so important) to be able to laugh about it. Enjoying finding so many creative and inspiring folk on here

      Reply
  7. sara

    I like the idea of a group…if you set anything up please post and let us all know. I was looking for a misophonia meetup or something for my daughter to join but haven’t been able to find anything local.

    Reply
  8. Cheryl Berry Levison

    Thank you so much for your informative research. Both my son and I suffer greatly from this condition. He has difficulty with noises while I suffer from seeing others fidget. We also share a bizarre compulsion to sit in certain chairs in a restaurant, etc that don’t appear to have a pattern. We actually will race to a table to pick our chairs and they are always the same choice. Thank you for shedding some light on this condition. We are both type A individuals. I am extremely creative and my son is a very high achiever. It’s been a difficult road dealing with this condition and we remain hopeful that more intensive research continues. Thank you!

    Reply
    • Allergic to Sound

      Hi Cheryl, thanks for your lovely comment and glad you found this article helpful. That’s amazing about you and your son’s compulsion to sit in certain chairs (at restaurants etc). It’d be interesting to hear if anyone else has had a similar experience!

      Reply
  9. Dea

    I suffer from this “misophonia” thing. I am creative. I write, paint, love crafts and hate some noises…

    Reply
  10. Anonymous

    This is honestly one of most hopeful things I’ve read so far. There’s always a silver lining in every storm. Thank you for the possibilities. I do sincerely hope that someday there’s a cure for this, and that people take this disorder seriously. It breaks my heart when nobody ever makes an attempt to understand this. There’s been a lot of positive stride on mental health in the past few years and the very prominent ones would definitely be depression and anxiety. That’s because a lot of people are coming out and talking and doing something about it. I think misophonia is as equally grueling and excruciating. I bet a lot of people have this disorder and aren’t aware of it. It’s painful thinking why only your brain would work that way and you’d start thinking that something is wrong with you. Heck,there’s something wrong with everyone in the planet. We need to stick together and get through this. I hope this reaches someone out there. Just know that you’re never alone.

    Reply
    • Allergic to Sound

      Thank you for your lovely comment and inspirational words. I completely agree. I also think our governments need to start investing more in mental health. With understanding, dialogue and support it is perfectly possible to live a happy and fulfilled life with this disorder.

      Reply
  11. Sandy

    When I start to hearing loud noises like chewing ,screaming, music I go into an anxiety state where my heart starts pounding and I feel like I am going to jump out of my skin(all the sounds described in the syndrome). Also I have a heightened sense of smells which I can identify the n derail what is is. everyone makes fun of me in good humor as though i am idiosyncratic and just put up with me. But I am creative and have an “eye” for those things others cannot see! I can walk into a room and can see what is not in balance. I can coordinate an outfit of clothing, fabric, wallpaper etc in just about no time flat where others are moved to tears. I can take on a complete home renovation project where no one would even do it. I am always called in for my opinion. I thought maybe I was OCD or some kind of sensory overload. I could not believe how reading your article made me feel. At least now I have a name for my condition. Just wondering why it took so long to come to light.
    Thanks so much

    Reply
    • Allergic to Sound

      Hi Sandy, that’s fantastic! Love that you have identified that you have a heightened sensitivity and a creative ‘eye’ for things in clothing/decor etc. So important to focus on the positives and enjoy and work with those.

      Reply
  12. dani

    Im creative making story but im from mexico an the people here are wery loud they party every day i hate that if there was a way of geting out of my countrie to a quiet one and im in a facebook group of misophonia join us please

    Reply
  13. Rebekah

    Amazing!! I always feel like I’m thee only one with this. I instantly know when someone is eating on the phone and instantly I get angered. I can hear crunching from the other rooms in the house or someone cutting their toenails.I’m a dispatcher and work in an enclosed room and we take our lunch breaks thru our shift, hearing someone chew and smack is just magnifying. It’s a terrible thing that I never knew existed and actually has a name!? Thank you!!

    Reply
  14. Wanda

    This is so interesting, I’m a writer/photographer/graphic artist, like many here. I have always hated chewing sounds and especially on the phone! I found out my nephew has the same problem. He is from a family of very accomplished musicians, however, he is the only one who does not appear to be creative. So one that doesn’t have that connection.

    Reply
  15. John Stormnoiser

    That is very interesting, i don’t want to put me over, this name is pseudonymous anyway, but i did psychological tests and i have a very high cognition.
    I do music too, strange don’t? And i always felt i’m very creative in my compositions.

    Reply
  16. Vlad

    Hi. I’ve spent a while this year in the library, from 4 to 6 hour per day, and all I can say is that sometimes it’s hell to not slap somebody. I’ve flipped a couple of times, once I told a guy who’s deaf-mute to stop chewing, after that, I tried as much as possible to control it. I changed about 3 libraries in my city because of the whispers and clicking pen noises around. I finally found one where is quiet and I can properly focus but today I almost flipped again when I heard whispers, those silent cheesy whispers.
    From my experience these months I’ve found a couple of trigger sounds:
    1. Chewing
    2. Whispers
    3. Pen clicking
    4. Door opening squealing
    5. The sound someone makes when they soup from glass
    6. When someone cuts a coke-can in half.

    Now the fact that surprised me is that I can relate to this study. I remember that since I was a kid I couldn’t stand certain noises, especially whispers and chewing but I also really liked art especially drawing and creating fucked up scenarios.

    The bad part is that sometimes studying can get 2x harder. Every time I hear the trigger noise I need to start over.

    Reply
  17. Stephanie

    In the miso parent group, we’ve talked about our artsy children several times, and the audiologist we see said they discussed this at a miso conference. There definitely seems to be less of a filter.

    Reply
  18. Bill

    I can say from my anecdotal point of view…yes, I was a graphic artist for 20 years, a musician for most of my life and a fine artist. Certainly indicates a creative architecture to my brain…

    And I’m very much aware I have both misophonia and misokinesia. I’ve had a terrible time working in office environments, where I find myself wanting to stand on my chair and yell strings of obscenities at my fellow office workers for the small talk and chatter, pen clicking and other noises.

    More recently I moved across country to the city I grew up in to care for my 81 year old mother. She suffers from anxiety and she’s always been a relatively loud person anyway. She laughs loud, thunders when she walks, slurps when she eats, makes excessive noise with her silverware or when cooking or cleaning….and she does things like stroking her coffee cup which makes me hit rage level in seconds. It’s an awful scenario, because I love her deeply, but can’t stand living with her, or most other people (with the exception of my son, who like me is a creative and suffers from misophenia as well.).

    One observation I’ve had is that when I’m working, or even more so, doing things like composing music….mentally I’m all in….like I can literally have a sense that my mind isn’t even in my brain, but rather out in front of me…totally 100% focused on the task at hand. It’s almost like an out of body experience in some respects. Errant noises tend to make me snap back abruptly…they stifle the flow, and then the rage comes in.

    Reply
  19. Roman

    I recently watched an interview with the band MGMT where songwriter Andrew Vanwyngarden revealed he has misophonia. I think his lyrics and compositions are very unique and creative, I believe there is a link between Misophonia and creativity.

    Reply
    • Allergic to Sound

      Hey Roman, that’s awesome. I managed to find the video on YouTube so will share that on the newsletter/website. Love MGMT’s stuff

      Reply

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