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Annoying: The Science of What Bugs Us
September 8, 2011
Make sure to read The New York Times book review!
About the Authors – Joe Palca is a science correspondent for National Public Radio and the backup host for Talk of the Nation Science Friday.
Flora Lichtman is the multimedia editor for Science Friday.
About the Book – Annoyances are everywhere: annoying sounds, annoying smells, annoying drivers, annoying friends, annoying strangers, annoying spouses. There’s nowhere to hide, and no one is immune.
In Annoying, NPR Science Correspondent Joe Palca and Science Friday’s Flora Lichtman dig through the scientific literature in search of explanations for what gets under our skin.
In this widely ranging scientific tour, you’ll meet researchers who have made strides in understanding why some things tick us off. You’ll find out why people blabbing on cell phones is so irritating and why you can’t help but tune in. You will learn the secrets of trash talk and how athletes overcome it, or don’t. You’ll hear about an illness that makes people annoyed to the point of dysfunction and visit a tiny island where no one seems to be annoyed. You’ll discover why chili peppers stand on the cusp between pleasant and painful, why odor is so powerful and how skunks have taken advantage, why raw onion fumes make us cry, and why some chemicals have been irritating life on Earth for half a billion years. The science is there. You just have to know where to look.
And yes, there is a recipe for annoying others. Although most of us know how to do this intuitively, Palca and Lichtman provide a clear, easy-to-follow, step-by-step process for annoying almost anyone. One: find something that your victim finds unpleasant and distracting. Two: make it hard to predict when the unpleasantness and distraction will end. Three: make it impossible to ignore. While you may have been born knowing the recipe, the conclusions scientists are able to draw from it will surprise you.
It turns out that your inability to ignore that cell phone call is a good thing, tearing out your hair in a traffic jam could just be a positive personality trait, and understanding what annoys you gives you the tools to overcome your annoyance—sort of. It also gives you some insight into how to become less annoying yourself, and wouldn’t that be a blessing?
So, the next time you’re ready to strangle that coworker who keeps tapping his pen against his teeth, don’t lose your cool. Pull out your copy of Annoying, place it on his desk, and tell him what an interesting book it is. When he puts his pen down to pick up the book, swipe the pen.