Here's why watching someone fidget makes you anxious or angry, according to B.C. research

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New University of British Columbia research says if you hate seeing people fidget, you may suffer from a psychological condition called “hatred of movements.”

In a news release sent out on Tuesday, UBC researchers say approximately one-third of the population suffers from the phenomenon also known as misokinesia. It is defined by a strong negative reaction to the sight of someone else’s small and repetitive movements. And the sensitivity increases with age.

“Sufferers are negatively impacted emotionally and experience reactions such as anger, anxiety or frustration,” says study co-lead Todd Handy, UBC psychology professor, in the news release. “They can experience reduced enjoyment in social situations, work and learning environments.”

Handy says he was inspired to study the condition after a romantic partner noticed him fidgeting. She admitted that it caused her a lot of stress to see him or anyone fidget.

In the news release, researchers say the study is the first of its kind on the condition.

“It’s quite an interesting topic to study, particularly since we found so many people are impacted,” reports study co-lead UBC psychology PhD student Sumeet Jaswal.

Jaswal says the study consisted of three parts involving 4,100 participants. She says participants were asked to self-report their reaction to seeing people fidget. If there was a reaction, the emotional and social impacts of the phenomenon were then assessed.

Some of those studied reported pursuing fewer social activities because of the condition, added Handy.

Jaswal says moving forward, the researchers want to explore the “mirror neurons” of those impacted.

“These neurons activate when we move but they also activate when we see others move,” added Jaswal. “That’s where the term ‘mirror’ comes from because we mirror the movements of others in our brain.”

She explains the reason people fidget is because they’re anxious or nervous so when individuals who suffer from misokinesia see someone fidgeting, they may mirror it and feel anxious or nervous as well.

“We are hoping to examine this more closely in our future research as well to see if there’s a genetic component to the sensitivity,” says Jaswal.

The study leads say there is hope for those who are suffering.

“You are not alone. Your challenge is common and it’s real,” says Handy. “Misokinesia is a widely shared phenomenon that no one has ever really talked about. By starting this discussion, there is reason for hope in better understanding and outcomes.”

The study authors created a website for those who want to learn more about misokinesia.