angry man

Why Pet Peeves Drive People Up the Wall

Asking people their pet peeves is a common getting-to-know-you question. Some job interviews include this query on their list. Others bring up this topic while engaging in small talk during a home repair service or air conditioning installation in Utah or wherever they live.

You can break the ice with a mutual understanding of irritating roommates, weird strangers, and troublesome family members. Have you ever wondered why these little annoyances trigger deep-seated anger within one’s being? Why is there an almost universal agreement of what is disliked? Authors Joe Palca and Flora Lichtman delve deeper to answer these questions in their book, Annoying: The Science of What Bugs Us.

Remainders of survival tactics

While pet peeves are essentially trivial, hence the name, they are an evolutionary remnant of human beings’ survival skills. The feeling one gets when they are peeved was the body’s way of alerting a person to danger in the past. Bad smells, high-pitched sounds, and breaking social norms like being late and leaving unwashed dishes on the sink were indicative that something is wrong, triggering a flight response. They’re not as life-threatening anymore in modern society, but the discomfort remains.

Take the screeching sound of nails when dragged on a chalkboard or the grating noise a chair makes when hauled on the floor. The sound produced by both actions has a similar frequency level to a human scream, which immediately captures attention as a call for help or a warning of a dangerous situation. The brain is affected by this frequency with serious activity happening in the amygdala, the part of the brain that regulates aggression and emotions.

Love of closure

talking on the phone

Why is overhearing a cellphone conversation considered more annoying than being an unwitting eavesdropper to an in-person gossip at a cafe? Co-author Lichtman shares it’s because human brains crave closure. You only get to hear half of what’s happening when a stranger suddenly has a public phone conversation, a halfalogue as dubbed by the annoyance researchers. The brain, she notes, goes into a mode trying to predict what the person is going to say next but is left hanging.

The act also falls under the three categories of what the pair calls the three “U”s that make something annoying. It is unpleasant because you can’t ignore it, unpredictable since you don’t know what the whole story is, and of an uncertain duration asking yourself when it will end.

Dealing with pet peeves

In a perfect world, everyone would be mindful of their actions and habits not to be annoying. Sadly, some people don’t care about others and continue with their irritating ways. Instead of perpetually complaining, there are measures you can do to keep pet peeves from affecting your mood and disposition. The first thing you can do is admit what is bothersome. Being in denial and dismissive about what’s wrong will only delay the inevitable anger and frustration. It’s better to take the bull by the horns and be honest, even if it’s with yourself.

Next, you can address the source of the pet peeve and open the lines of communication. This is important if the person who annoys you is someone you live or work closely with. Remember to be kind and polite when telling them. Sometimes, people are unaware of their quirks and are willing to accommodate your request.

Lastly, you can choose to accept the situation that you can’t control everything. Take deep breaths when it happens or remove yourself from the area. Don’t let a simple pet peeve ruin your day.

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