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  • Arts & Culture
  • Issue 36

Aggravating Circumstances

What makes something annoying?
Words by Debika Ray. Photograph by Brooke DiDonato.

In this era of global chaos, it can be easy to forget that there are events that don’t elicit extreme reactions such as despair, euphoria or terror, but have an emotional effect on us nonetheless. To remind you what that feeling is, consider the following: the noise emanating from your seatmate’s headphones; someone standing a fraction too close to you in line; the website that takes forever to load. Ah yes, there it is—annoyance.

Are some things objectively annoying? Possibly. As Flora Lichtman, co-author of the 2011 book Annoying: The Science of What Bugs Us, suggested in an interview with NPR, there’s something about the mix of frequencies that makes the sound of fingernails running down a blackboard intrinsically aggravating. “But that’s sort of rare, ” she adds. “Most annoyances seem pretty personal.” On the other hand, a 2009 study by Noah Eisenkraft and Hillary Anger Elfenbein described a concept called “affective presence.”

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This story is from Kinfolk Issue Thirty-six

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