Almost any sound can set off instant aggravation in an individual that a clinician might diagnose as “misophonia.”
Even everyday sounds can cause negative reactions. Sometimes we are the transmitters of audible noise that, while routine, others find obnoxious. A sound can take a listener to the far side of annoyance, creating irritation or the urge to move on. The popular press is full of accounts of individuals who can’t stand to be around certain people because of their loud chewing, endless pen-clicking, throat-clearing, or vocal tics that function like aural red flags. For example, silence-fillers such as “like” or “you know” are nonfluencies that can make it less likely that someone will hear anything else. In theory, almost any sound can set off instant aggravation in an individual that a clinician might diagnose as “misophonia,” the name given to their discomfort with certain everyday sonics.
Humans are generally a noisy lot.
There is no shortage of ways we easily fall into repetitive routines that have their own sound signatures. The person with misophonia who is obsessing over the same auditable triggers is frequently–if accidentally–matched up to an obsessive producer of them. Part of the fun of Neil Simon’s classic play, The Odd Couple (filmed in 1968), is how Felix’s oral tics begin to grate on the laid-back Oscar. Endless throat-clearing is a typical case. Neither of the divorced men sharing an apartment has made a match that is any better than their failed marriages. The annoyances are funny because they would be recognized by any couple living under the same roof.
Imagine the intentional baiting of a sound-sensitive person with the very things that annoy them most. It happens, often as a kind of rhetorical strategy that can be described as a “deliberate misidentification.” The human default in social relations is usually to meet someone halfway: to find common points of identification. By contrast, the intention to annoy is a break from our best selves, a misidentification and a passive-aggressive behavior that provokes someone seen as a deserving victim. For some in the mood for some mischief it may be a barking dog let loose in a backyard as “payback” to a complaining neighbor, or perhaps a music system cranked up to answer the circus of noise that never ceases next door.
It turns out that there is no shortage of online videos and articles on how to fight back against noisy neighbors. It is especially common in buildings housing many families. Audio engineer Brett Houston “solved” the problem of lead feet incessantly moving around in the apartment upstairs. His solution was to put loudspeakers in the ceiling cavities that he had inadvertently opened after pounding on them once too often using the old apartment dweller’s recourse of a broomstick jabbed into the thin drywall. In the hole Houston placed a large speaker between the joists under the neighbor’s floor. He then put microphones at different points along the ceiling, routing the sound through an amplifier, with a short delay. He then fed the sounds back to the speaker under the neighbor’s floor at a 1 to 3 ratio. The “karma” he sought meant that any noise they made was amplified and fed back to them three times. The neighbors eventually moved.