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?