Tinnitus has high prevalence and a wide range of etiologies and of impacts on sufferers. Our objective was to develop understanding of the role of personality in the perception of tinnitus in the general population. As a theoretical basis for this, we combined elements of a general model of signal detection with the ideas of ignition (development) and promotion (neural transmission) of tinnitus, and considered plausible roles for personality factors within this conceptual framework.
We interviewed a birth cohort of 970 people aged 32 yr sampled from the general population. On the basis of questioning, we divided them into three groups, those without tinnitus, those with occasional tinnitus (including those with transient tinnitus of very brief duration), and those who experienced tinnitus most of the time. We also established how annoying or distressing the tinnitus was, and assessed personality using the Multidimensional Personality Questionnaire.
Tinnitus was experienced rarely by 38.2% and half the time or more by 6.8% of those studied. Men and women did not differ in the amount of tinnitus reported, but women were more likely to find it annoying. People from lower socioeconomic backgrounds were more likely to report tinnitus. People with tinnitus were more socially withdrawn, reactive to stress, alienated, and less Self-Controlled. People who were more annoyed by tinnitus were more socially withdrawn, and men were more stress reactive and alienated.
Our interpretation of the findings is that personality influences the persistence of tinnitus by influencing the tendency to be aware of it. Consideration of personality factors may improve the ability to tailor tinnitus therapies, and the concept of awareness may benefit treatment outcomes by showing tinnitus sufferers a means of internalizing the locus of control over their symptoms.