Ever since seeing Tom Dozier introduce the Trigger Tamer, his misophonia treatment app, on YouTube, I have thought that the invention was our equivalent of the flux capacitor from my favorite 80’s movie comedy, “Back to the Future”—a pure fantasy that was obviously the mental doodling of a madman, but one that would nevertheless be really neat if it actually worked.
Well, after corresponding with Mr. Dozier via email, I’m not so sure he is a madman, after all.
Tom Dozier, it turns out, was the tenth person hired by FormFactor Inc., a Livermore, Calif.-based company that is now a global semiconductor leader, employing over 1,000 people in offices on three continents and serving such tech giants as Intel, Samsung and Texas Instruments. In 2002, he told me, he stepped down from his full-time position as director of manufacturing engineering to train the next generation of sunny, passionate techies. He retired completely in 2007, at age 55.
With both the means and desire to leave a more personal legacy, Mr. Dozier decided to go back to school to get a master’s of science in behavior analysis—an actually useful academic discipline that has been applied to the treatment of autism, among other real life problems. Soon after receiving his M.S., he set up shop as consultant to parents of children with behavioral issues.
In 2012, he said he met the parents of a 12-year-old girl who were distraught over the youngster’s misophonia diagnosis, her “explosive and combative” behavior, and her poor prognosis for recovery. Mr. Dozier said he saw parallels to his own daughter’s behavioral struggles and decided to declare scientific war on our disorder.
He began by examining Pawel Jastreboff’s groundbreaking research on decreased sound tolerance disorders at the Emory University School of Medicine. Dr. Jastreboff, an Otolaryngology professor, came to the conclusion that our rage reaction was a conditioned reflex, and therefore achieved my designation as the Father of Misophonia many posts ago. In lay terminology, both Mr. Dozier and I describe it as the angry reaction one might have to taking a sucker punch to the gut.
So, Mr. Dozier proceeded to immerse himself in research about acquired human reflex de-conditioning. After initially coming up empty-handed, he stumbled upon several articles by Nenad Paunovic, a psychology researcher at Sweden’s Stockholm University, who had studied treating post traumatic stress disorder using a counterconditioning procedure.
Daydreaming at his desk, Mr. Dozier blended the Paunovic study with what he had learned in graduate school about conditioned reflexes and came up with his conception of what goes horribly wrong in our brains during the rage response, and how it could all be corrected with a well-constructed aural deconditioning routine.
Unfortunately, as soon as that part of the treatment puzzle was solved, a new one cropped up.
“The idea for the Trigger Tamer came to me because of the difficulty of providing an individually tailored treatment for misophonia,” said Mr. Dozier. “The trigger had to be continually adjusted because the strength of the response varied with how the person was feeling that day.” Further, he said, the settings had to be continuously monitored for the rate, volume and length of the trigger.
Then came Mr. Dozier’s aha moment. “I often had to make multiple copies of the homework with varying volume,” he said. “As an engineer, it was natural to automate the process, and smartphones seemed to be a natural choice.” Mr. Dozier said he contracted with a software programmer to do that part of the task.
This all sounded very Post-It Note success story-ish to me, but since I have no background in either engineering or human physiology, I decided to contact Dr. Jastreboff— who has both--and has also done pioneering research on the treatment of decreased sound tolerance disorders, particularly tinnitus, using a method he developed called Tinnitus Retraining Therapy (TRT).
“I’ve heard about this device and talked with Mr. Dozier,” Dr. Jastreboff said via email. “It is broadly related to TRT, but it is not actually involving TRT. Until I see clear positive results, I am not commenting on it.”
Unfortunately, that kind of leaves the Trigger Tamer hanging in NPL (New Product Limbo) on Mr. Dozier’s Misophonia Research Institute website (which, quite frankly, had placed him on my crackpot shelf, until I actually digested the site’s content).
But what, I thought, if he’s really on to something? Especially in today’s times, where it seems that most major healthcare app developers meet their financial backers at beer-infused poker games on the campus of Stanford University? What then?
For an answer to this potentially lethal commercial question, I had to go to misophonia’s version of Deep Throat, the anonymous source that Woodward and Bernstein used to bring down the Nixon presidency. And our Deep Throat told me essentially the same thing that the original Deep Throat told those crusading reporters: Where the innovative neuropsychiatric products go, the money will follow.
Just the thought that our version of the flux capacitor might one day prove effective and become available to me through Amazon (or, the next generation of retail distribution) makes me ecstatic.
I say, stay tuned to a YouTube channel near you for Tom Dozier’s “Back to Misophonia Part II”.