Every sunny day, a guitarist busks on the sidewalks of Fifth Avenue right below the Foundation’s new offices. For hours on end, he plays the same chord progressions; he knows maybe four “songs.” You know something annoys you when you look forward to a week of rain because it means the guitar man won’t play as often.
I turned to the new book, Annoying: The Science of What Bugs Us, to try to figure out why my colleagues and I (okay, mostly me) get so testy about the guitar music.
As authors Joe Palca, a National Public Radio (NPR) science correspondent, and Flora Lichtman, an editor of NPR’s Science Friday, write, people who have had a section of their anterior cingulate cortex, an area of the brain referred to in the book as “a gateway to annoyance,” removed to treat psychiatric disorders or chronic pain often end up calmer after surgery. They report “less emotional tension, anger, and pain.”
Structures in the brain’s limbic system can also play a big role in determining and processing annoyances. Emotional responses can build up over time thanks to the hippocampus, a structure in the brain’s limbic system important to memory and learning, and the amygdala, which “is essential for forming and retaining these emotional memories.”
Rather than have a section of my brain removed to lessen my annoyed reaction to the guitar music, I’ve chosen to play other music in my office to drown it out. I hope I’m not pissing off any of my colleagues in the process.
To find out more about Annoying, listen to the authors discuss the book on Morning Edition.