VICE: If You Can’t Stand People Fidgeting, You May Have Misokinesia
"I want to cry as I think of these triggers. Legs shaking, people swaying, fingers and toes tapping.”
In 2014, Todd Handy was having dinner with a new girlfriend when she interrupted the meal with a confession. "I don't want you to feel attacked," he remembered her saying.
She explained that Handy had a fidgeting habit, and she found it very stressful to watch and be around. "Of course, I was concerned as a partner,” said Handy, a professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia. “But as a visual neuroscientist and somebody who studies visual attention, it really piqued my interest. I thought, 'Hey, what's going on here? This is a very interesting phenomenon.'”
It sounded to Handy like a visual version of misophonia—the “hatred of sound,” or "sound rage," a condition in which people have intense emotional and physical reactions to trigger noises, often chewing or lip smacking. When he consulted misophonia research, he found that a paper from 2013 had called a reaction to visual triggers misokinesia, or a "hatred of movement." He casually started to ask his lecture classes if anyone was bothered by seeing another person fidget.
“And literally a third of the class would raise their hands and you could just see this look on their faces they were like, ‘Oh, my gosh. He’s talking about something I'm suffering from.’”
Last week, Handy and his colleagues published the first study to focus solely on misokinesia in Nature Scientific Reports, with first author PhD student Sumeet Jaswal. The paper is mostly focused on determining how common misokinesia might be—and their findings remarkably resemble the impromptu surveys Handy did on his classes. In a total of over 4,000 people, one-third said they were sensitive to watching others fidget, and that it caused negative emotions like anger, anxiety, and frustration to arise.
Arjan Schröder, a postdoctoral researcher at Amsterdam UMC and the first author on the 2013 paper that coined misokinesia, said this prevalence matched what he has seen in his misophonia patient samples. Yet, as Handy's work shows, misokinesia might also be quite common in general populations too.
Handy and his colleagues first asked a group of students whether they ever had “strong negative feelings, thoughts, or physical reactions when seeing or viewing other peoples’ fidgeting or repetitive movements," like someone’s foot shaking, fingers tapping, or gum chewing. 38% of the students responded yes, and 31% reported having both misokinesia (visual) and misophonia (audio) sensitivity.
Then they asked an older, more demographically diverse sample (not students) and found a similar prevalence: 36% of participants reported they had misokinesia sensitivity and 25.5% reported having both misokinesia and misophonia.
It's an intriguing finding that misokinesia and misophonia seem to exist both together and in isolation. On the subreddit for misophonia, one person shared that noises didn’t bother them severely but fidgeting did.
“If someone starts shaking [their] foot or tapping their hand, even if they make no sound whatsoever, I get very irrational and I have to block my view, usually with my hand,” they wrote. “EVERYONE shakes their foot. I can't live with this anymore. Everyday I encounter MULTIPLE PEOPLE AT ONCE shaking their feet and I only have two hands.'' Another remembered losing their temper as a child as a man in an elevator tapped his foot, so much so that they stomped on his foot on their way out.