Let’s face it; we’re all annoyed by something. Fingernails unforgivingly scraping across a chalkboard. A bee buzzing relentlessly in our ear. A co-worker who shows up late for meetings. But what is it about these occurrences that irks us so much? According to a book called Annoying: The Science of What Bugs Us by Joe Palca and Flora Lichtman, discussed in a recent NPR article, part of the issue is the inability of the human brain to predict what’s going to happen next.
This is particularly true with the advent of cell phones. Most likely, we’ve all been irritated by a cell phone conversation at one time or another, but why? Palca and Lichtman suggest that it’s our inability to wrap our minds around the full picture of the situation. When we hear only half of a conversation, our brain tries to fill in the blanks, but, depending on what form the conversation takes, this can be nearly impossible.
Other examples include waiting to board a plane at the airport and sitting in traffic that doesn’t seem to be moving at all. In both situations, we have a certain expectation (that we’ll be able to board our plane when the airline indicated to us and that we’ll be able to make it to our destination on time), and it’s frustrating when that expectation is not met, with no explanation as to why.
Annoyances are nearly impossible to escape, so it’s reached the point where we should expect them. But expecting to encounter irksome situations doesn’t appear to make them easier to live through. We all have different experiences on a day-to-day basis, and thus encounter different annoyances. In fact, chances are that we all do something that annoys someone else. Rather than get all bent out of shape about it, perhaps it’s better to shrug and say, “Well, that’s life, I guess.”