Chalkboard

You know that special feeling you get when you hear the sound of nails on a chalkboard? In Spanish, it’s called grima.

In English, well, we don’t have a word for it. “That feeling you get when you hear the sound of nails on a chalkboard” is pretty much the best we can do. German has a similar situation going on.

So a group of Spanish-, English- and German-speaking researchers decided to look at the idea of grima a little more closely.

Through a series of studies, they found evidence that while there’s no English or German equivalent of the word, grima may be a distinct emotional state. Specifically, they found that grima is provoked by certain sounds and is associated with several physiological changes.

Compared to other emotions, grima appeared to be most closely related to disgust – although grima and disgust still weren’t the same. For example, people who were able to suppress their experience of grima in response to grima-provoking sounds were not necessarily able to suppress their experience of disgust in response to disgust-provoking sounds.

Although Spanish-, English- and German-speaking participants all experienced grima, only the Spanish-speakers were able to label the emotion they were feeling. English- and German-speakers, meanwhile, had no equivalent word to summarize the experience.

While this seems to be the first study investigating the concept of grima, it’s hardly the only work to look at the nails-on-chalkboard phenomenon.

For example, a 2012 study suggested that certain sounds, like nails on a chalkboard and buzzing mosquitoes, can “induce feelings of touch” by triggering communication between parts of the brain responsible for hearing and sensation. The same study found that when people have brain lesions that amplify this communication, those people can experience a form of synesthesia in which they literally feel sounds as bodily sensations.

Overall, there’s still a lot we don’t know about why people experience grima. But having a word for this irritating emotional state can only help!

Image: Flickr/Monika Hoinkis