Hearing loss and boredom: What is the relationship?

Dr. Gurjit Singh, a senior research audiologist at Phonak, and Dr. Mark Fenske, a cognitive neuroscientist and Professor of Psychology at the University of Guelph in Canada, recently explored this relationship.

One of the best predictors of who gets a hearing aid is how bothersome the hearing loss is.  Typically, this is assessed by the degree of hearing loss as measured with an audiogram.

But is this the right measure?  What’s fascinating is that often, two people are not bothered by the same audiometric loss to the same extent.

For example, we know that people vary naturally in how easily they get bored. So, if you’re the kind of person that doesn’t get bored very easily, maybe a certain level of hearing loss wouldn’t bother you as much in terms of your hearing loss extent. But if you’re a person who gets bored more easily and then suddenly, your sensory input is limited by hearing loss, then you’re going to be bothered by that hearing loss to a greater extent than someone who does not get bored more easily.

What made that question unique for us as researchers was that no one has ever explored this concept of boredom proneness in audiology. My understanding of prior research is that while there has been previous research looking at cognition and fatigue in relation to hearing loss, the idea of boredom has not yet been investigated.

Study results: Correlation between boredom and hearing loss

Dr. Mark Fenske and I decided to explore this relationship. Dr. Fenske, a cognitive neuroscientist, is an expert in cognition and motivation. Also involved in this work was a stellar team consisting of Carolyn Crawford, a graduate student who was project lead and who supervised a group of undergraduate students (Kalisha Ramlackhan, Hannah Brock, Ariella Golden, Sibley Hutchinson, and Brooke Party).

Our study involved close to 2000 participants. The participants, all first-time visitors of audiology clinics aged 50 years or older, had a mild case of hearing loss. The study examined the level of their hearing as well as their tendency to experience boredom.

What we learned was that not all people with a mild loss of hearing are the same.

Some people with mild hearing loss are not really bothered by it, while other people with a similar amount of hearing loss tend to be bothered to a greater extent. What this work uncovered is that this difference in the subjective impact of audiometric loss for a person is predicted by how easily someone gets bored.

Boredom is also highly tied to attention because we all want to be engaged in some sort of satisfying activity. So, when we talk about being engaged with anything — that concerns attention.

Clinical significance of this study

This study shows us that an individual’s boredom levels and difficulties in maintaining attention can be considered as potential personal factors which can be helpful to determine the extent to which hearing loss becomes bothersome for an individual. Such personal factors related to cognition could potentially prompt the likelihood of the person’s decision of whether treatment regarding their hearing loss may prove to be beneficial.