Misophonia Matters – New Publication in Sociology of Health & Illness

Dr. Asia Friedman and I just published a case study on the role of brain imaging in promoting and validating new diagnoses. Certain types of sound sensitivity have often been symptoms associated with other, established psychiatric conditions, but have not necessarily been promoted as discrete clinical entities (i.e., diagnoses on their own). Recently, researchers using brain imaging to study misophonia have been instrumental in making claims about the condition and establishing its legitimacy as a separate diagnosis. Here’s the abstract from our paper:

“Misophonia has gained attention in scientific circles that utilise brain imaging to validate diagnoses. The condition is promoted as not merely a symptom of other psychiatric diagnoses but as a discrete clinical entity. We illustrate the social construction of the diagnostic category of misophonia through examining prominent claims in research studies that use brain imaging to substantiate the diagnosis. We show that brain images are insufficient to establish the ‘brain basis for misophonia’ due to both technical and logical limitations of imaging data. Often misunderstood as providing direct access to the matter of the body, brain images are mediated and manipulated numerical data (Joyce, 2005, Social Studies of Science 35(3), p. 437). Interpretations of brain scans are further shaped by social expectations and attributes considered salient to the data. Causal inferences drawn from these studies are problematic because ‘misophonics’ are clinically pre-diagnosed before participating. We argue that imaging cannot replace the social process of diagnosis in the case of misophonia, nor validate diagnostic measures or otherwise substantiate the condition. More broadly, we highlight both the cultural authority and inherent limitations of brain imaging in the social construction of contested diagnoses while also illustrating its role in the disaggregation of symptoms into new diagnoses.”