Picture yourself at a crowded airport departure gate. Your flight is 20 minutes late, although the illuminated sign still says On Time.
The woman on your left is noisily eating something that smells awful. The overhead TV is tuned to a celebrity gossip show, a relentless stream of Bieber after Gwyneth after Miley, plus countless Kardashians. The man to your right is still braying into his cell phone, and the traveler next to him is preparing to kill time with … wait, is that a toenail clipper?
Unless you are saintly or unconscious, a few things in that description—or many things, or all the things—are likely to really bug you. We know an annoyance when we experience it. But from a scientific perspective, just what makes something annoying? Are some things universally annoying, while others are specific to an individual? And does research offer any advice for preventing life’s annoyances from making our heads explode?