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May 12, 2021

The science of what really bugs us

Everyone is annoyed by something. In fact, many of us are annoyed by lots of things. 

But did you know that there are scientific reasons that we get so ticked off? In "Annoying: The Science of What Bugs Us" NPR science correspondents Joe Palca and Flora Lichtman explain why even everyday things can drive you into a homicidal rage.

It turns out we’re hardwired to be sensitive to sights and sounds that are dissonant, disgusting, or violate social norms that lurk in the back of our minds.

Take the “halfalogue” cell conversation, for instance. When we don’t know what’s being said on the other end of the conversation, it draws our minds away from other tasks requiring concentration such as reading or working on a computer.

Since you’re less capable of predicting what will be said next, you actually pay more attention to the disjointed half that you can hear — even if you really want to ignore it. Your brain is working a little bit harder, and that draws you in a little bit more and then you're really less capable of doing the thing you want to be doing.

There are a couple of common characteristics at work here: Unpredictability, in the sense that you get on the subway and you can't know or even control that the guy next to you is going to have leaky headphones or a scratching problem. The second is the uncertain duration. It has to stop sometime, you say, but there’s really no telling when.

What really bugs you, and why? Do you get annoyed with yourself for being annoyed?

By Gordon Powers, MSN Money

* Follow Gordon on Twitter here.



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Gordon PowersGordon Powers

A long-time fund company executive, Gordon Powers now heads up the Affinity Group, a financial services consulting firm. Gordon was a personal finance columnist for the Globe & Mail for many years, has taught retirement planning...

James HaversJames Havers

James is the senior editor of MSN Money living in Toronto. He has worked for the Nikkei Shimbun (Tokyo),,, Canadian Business and other publications. Havers turned to journalism after teaching overseas.

Jason BucklandJason Buckland

The modern-day MC Hammer of money, Jason can often be seen spending cash that isn’t his with the efficiency of a Wilt Chamberlain first date. After cutting his teeth as a reporter for the Toronto Sun, he joined the MSN Money team with...