Misokinesia, an Increasingly Common Psychological Phenomenon

Does it bother you to see someone repeatedly move their hands, legs, or feet? If so, you may be experiencing misokinesia. It affects one in three people, and you could be one of them.
Misokinesia, an Increasingly Common Psychological Phenomenon

Last update: 16 September, 2021

Does it irritate you to have someone around you who won’t stop drumming their fingers on a table or moving their leg up and down while sitting? If so, you might be suffering from a very specific psychological phenomenon called misokinesia. Thanks to a study, we know that it affects one in three people and that it’s related to misophonia (discomfort when hearing certain sounds).

Since the publication of a research paper by the University of British Colombia (Canada) which we discuss in more detail later, this term has gone viral across much of the media. In fact, it’s as if suddenly, millions of people could put a name to that annoyance they’ve suffered from for years. Indeed, until recently misokinesia was an unknown reality. However, it was suffered by many, and finally, now, they’re able to understand it.

Misokinesia is suffered by many people in their work environments. Or, when they have nervous partners, those people with unconscious body tics that they can’t control.

woman who makes movements with the leg provoking woman with misokinesia in others

Misokinesia: definition, symptoms, and causes

Misokinesia is a psychological condition that causes discomfort, phobia, and irritation when seeing and hearing someone who doesn’t stop moving. For example, someone who can’t stop making sounds with their fingers. Alternatively, they might be clicking a pen over and over again, rocking in a chair, or moving their leg up and down, or waving their foot when sitting down.

Experts have been discussing this psychological reality for some time. For example, in 2014,  the University of Amsterdam (Netherlands) conducted a study. They were actually addressing the phenomenon of misophonia. This refers to the kind of irritability a person experiences when hearing sounds like the dripping of a tap or someone chewing. However, the researchers also discovered another phenomenon.

In fact, they discovered that many of the people who suffered from misophonia (hatred of sound) suffered another extreme reaction. They experienced feelings of discomfort when seeing and hearing certain body movements. It was then that Dr. Arjan Schröder and his colleagues at the University of Amsterdam coined the term misokinesia: hatred of movement.

What are the symptoms?

Seven years after this first study, the University of British Colombia has taken up the baton to clarify and better understnd the phenomenon of misokinesia. This study states that misokinesia can affect about 33 percent of the population. That’s a high figure.

If you want to know if you’re one of those affected, here are the symptoms:

  • Discomfort, irritability, and even feelings of anger when someone performs repetitive body movements.
  • Seeing someone opening and closing a pen, squeezing the classic stress ball, or cracking or drumming their fingers creates great anxiety. In fact, the feeling can become unbearable, to the point of having to walk away.
  • There are people who feel unable to work with a colleague who moves their legs a lot when they’re sitting down.
  • Misokinesia affects each person in a unique way and to different degrees. The majority tend to simply feel discomfort and anxiety. However, there are also those who feel unable to go to work or to meet people who they know are especially nervous. For instance, being around someone with a lot of nervous tics can be infuriating.
  • When someone with repetitive movements is nearby, the person with misokinesia can’t focus or think about anything else.

The origins of misokinesia

At present, and with the studies carried out so far, the causes of misokinesia aren’t exactly known. Therefore, more research work is needed. However, the cause of misophonia, which is directly related to misokinesia, is known.

As a matter of fact, misophonia, or sound phobia, which involves the fear of hearing others chew or even breathe, has been found to have its origins in the brain. In fact, in sufferers of misophonia, hyperactivity is observed in the anterior insular cortex.

This area of the brain activates strong emotions such as fear or anger. It also increases feelings of stress, sweating, and heart rate. Something similar could happen with misokinesia. Furthermore, it’s thought that it could be related to mirror neurons.

This theory suggests that the simple fact of seeing someone with a nervous tic activates sufferers of misophonia too. Hence, they’re also infected by the other person’s restlessness but at much higher levels.

woman meditating to avoid misokinesia

What can you do if you suffer from misokinesia?

Given that the incidence of this psychological experience is high, what would be the best way to deal with it? Well, as we’ve pointed out, misokinesia affects each person in a unique way. There’ll be those who can handle certain situations if they avoid paying attention to the person making the movements. However, in the most extreme instances, suffers will experience overwhelming anxiety. In these cases, they should seek expert help.

In general, relaxation techniques and deep breathing, such as visualization (creating an alternate mental image while the movements are going on) can help. Also, another simple strategy may be to ask the person in question to stop carrying out the behavior. However, as we well know, this isn’t always possible…

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  • Jaswal, S.M., De Bleser, A.K.F. & Handy, T.C. Misokinesia is a sensitivity to seeing others fidget that is prevalent in the general population. Sci Rep 11, 17204 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-021-96430-4