Ever since I can remember, I have absolutely hated the sound of chewing. Even as a child, I would throw temper tantrums if I heard my parents chewing. Most of the fights in my household sparked around dinner time when I was forced to sit near the sound. In addition to chewing, I also cannot focus during class if I hear coughing. I can’t even focus if I hear nose-blowing. When I take tests in lecture halls, I wear earplugs.
Am I an oversensitive brat? Maybe. Am I a creative genius? Also, maybe.
I was absolutely shocked when I saw an article claiming that having Misophonia, the hatred of sound, could mean you are also some kind of inventive prodigy. Before I looked through the article, I tried to think of how this could possibly make any sense. How could hating the sound of chewing imply that I am creative?
What could this mean? Hatred of chewing causes heightened creativity? Hatred of chewing is positively correlated with creativity?
I could think of absolutely no mechanisms, no third variables, and simply no direct explanations for why my hatred of subtle sounds is in any way connected to creativity.
After researching, I have a clearer understanding of how this could be possible.
While it may not be my actual hatred for chewing that connects to creativity, it is the fact that I even notice the sound in the first place that indicates a difference in my brain. The heightened sensitivity may indicate that I am physically unable to block out extra sounds, indicating something about my brain’s filter of information.
All of this connects to an in-depth study called Neuropsychologia conducted by Northwestern University. The study focuses on sensory gating, a process in our brain that blocks out unnecessary stimuli from the environment. The study encompasses 97 participants between the ages of 18 and 30. Participants were tested to check for any brain issues, injuries, smoking, or drinking history.
The study even went as far as to clarify that all participants were right-handed Caucasians. I don’t really know why. I just find it was interesting that they shared this with the public when most studies wouldn’t care to mention subtle things that are most likely unrelated to the situation at hand. While this may be seen as a bad selection of participants considering it is not completely random, the study does not have to do with race or dominant hands. Although, one could argue that different races or lefties are more creative than the test group through studies. However, in this case, doesn’t that help the study’s control? This could be one possible flaw in the study, but I don’t see anything detrimentally wrong with it.
Participants were given a three-part divergent thinking test and a Creative Achievement Questionnaire. The tests together show results of both laboratory divergent thinking, and real world creativity.
After these assessments, participants were tested on their sensory gating. They were placed in a soundproof chamber while wearing a headset (in fancy words, an EEG cap). They then were played a series of clicking sounds. The clicks were often played in pairs, one right after the other. This is because the average person’s neural response to the second click is expected to be less psychologically stimulating due to the fact that it sounds the exact same as the first click.
The study found that people with higher real world creativity were not able to gate, or block out, as many sounds as the average person who is less creative. On the other hand, the divergent thinking test showed otherwise—people who had higher scores on the divergent thinking test typically had higher sensory gating than others. The study was trying to prove the opposite of this. The leaders note that this could be due to the instructions for the divergent thinking test, in which participants had a limited amount of time to come up with their answers. People who are quick to answer questions could be those with high sensory gating, and therefore not necessarily the creative geniuses that the test was designed to discover.
My final thoughts:
I believe that there is some sort of correlation between creative thinking and the inability to reduce intake of sensory information from the environment. They stated that this concept may be the mechanism for why the participants with a wider focus on a wide range of stimuli are able to connect distantly related ideas. I also think this study does a very good job at avoiding the Texas sharpshooter problem and the file drawer problem by releasing the results to both creativity tests and hypothesizing why the results may have been different. Their inclusion of all results helps boost credibility and show that the study was professionally conducted without bias. Although this is only one study with 97 people, I think they proved as far as they could by themselves that there is a correlation. Yes, their study group could have been larger and more randomized. But, other than that, their procedures were very precisely measured from beginning to end, as you can see here. Now it is up to other scientists to keep testing this hypothesis to rule out false positives and reduce the possibility that these results could be due to chance.
As for me, I will try to be less frustrated with my sensitivity to chewing. Maybe it’s not a bad thing after all!