REAM Foundation Awards $455K to USM Faculty Studying Misophonia
Wed, 11/15/2023 - 08:50am | By: Karelia Pitts
The Misophonia Research Fund (MRF), an initiative of the REAM Foundation, awarded more than $455,000 to an interdisciplinary research team at The University of Southern Mississippi (USM) working to characterize attention and memory deficits in misophonic individuals following exposure to trigger sounds.
“Have you ever observed a family member or friend who is sensitive to everyday sounds like lip smacking, chewing food, grinding teeth, sniffing or snorting? Beyond seeming a little annoyed, you may experience them looking distressed or expressing strong emotional and physical reactions to these common sounds,” said Dr. Mark Huff, associate professor of psychology and principal investigator on the project. “Although it may seem like they’re overreacting, they could actually be experiencing sensitivities to triggers associated with a condition called misophonia.”
Misophonia is an auditory condition in which the presence of specific trigger sounds can produce powerful negative emotions such as anger or distress. Though misophonia is not formally classified as an auditory or psychiatric disorder, initial estimates from pilot data collected by the research team at USM suggest that sensitivities to misophonia triggers are common with 40 to 45 percent of individuals reporting mild or greater sensitivities using currently available misophonia assessments.
“Critically, little research has been conducted to determine how this condition may affect core psychological processes such as attention and memory and how impacts to these processes may affect subjective well-being,” said Dr. Huff. “Our cross-disciplinary research team seeks to address critical gaps in the basic understanding of misophonia by evaluating how performance on tasks that involve the use of attention, working memory and episodic memory are adversely impacted when misophonia triggers are present versus absent.”
This interdisciplinary collaboration brings together researchers from the USM School of Psychology, Drs. Mark Huff, Donald Sacco, and Randy Arnau, with Dr. Kimberly Ward of the USM School of Speech and Hearing Sciences to investigate this understudied, yet fascinating condition.
For most people, sounds that originate from the mouth or nose might be a mild nuisance, but for individuals with misophonia these sounds are exceptionally irritating, possibly even anger inciting. Focal for this work, trigger sounds are likely to be highly distracting for individuals with misophonia sensitivities, making it difficult for these individuals to effectively complete tasks that require concentration. The proposed project will therefore compare performance on tasks that are attentionally demanding and require participants to encode and retrieve information.
All participants will complete a comprehensive audiological assessment to screen for auditory disorders and clinical psychological assessments of anxiety, depression and the presence of obsessions/compulsions to evaluate the presence of comorbidities that may accompany misophonia sensitivities. The study will therefore specify misophonia as the focal condition and evaluate its impacts on attention and memory processes.
The USM team is one of six grant recipients from the REAM Foundation’s Misophonia Research Fund that supports scientific investigators who seek to characterize misophonia and develop new therapeutic strategies. The newly funded projects mark the fifth anniversary of MRF and their $10 million investment into a field that previously had no dedicated research funding and scant scientific or therapeutic progress.