Despite extensive evidence supporting the benefits of hearing treatments for individuals affected by hearing loss, many leave their hearing issues unaddressed. This underscores the need to better understand the individual factors influencing decision-making regarding hearing loss treatments. One consideration regarding the low uptake of treatment is the finding that the subjective impact of hearing loss is greater for some individuals than for others, yielding a significant discrepancy between subjective measures of hearing loss (e.g., self-report hearing-handicap scales) and objective audiometric assessments (e.g., audiograms). The current study seeks to elucidate some of the cognitive-affective factors that give rise to these individual differences in the subjective impact of hearing loss. Specifically, we hypothesized that a stronger trait tendency to experience boredom would be correlated with more intensely negative experiences of hearing-related issues, and that this relationship would be mediated by underlying attentional difficulties.
Through a partnership with hearing care clinics (Connect Hearing Canada), we recruited a large sample of older adults (n = 1840) through their network of hearing-care clinics. Audiometric thresholds provided an objective measure of hearing ability for each participant, while self-report questionnaires assessed individual differences in the subjective impact of hearing-related issues (hearing handicap), subjective strain experienced when listening (listening effort), tendency to experience boredom, tendency to experience difficulty maintaining task-focused attention (mind-wandering), and self-perceived level of cognitive functioning.
The subjective impact of hearing loss—both in terms of hearing handicap and strain when listening—was found to be more intensely negative for those who are characteristically more susceptible to experiencing boredom, and this relationship was shown to be mediated by self-reported differences in the ability to maintain task-focused attention. This relationship between trait boredom proneness and the subjective impact of hearing-related issues was evident across all levels of objective hearing abilities. Moreover, there was no evidence that the subjective impact of hearing loss is worse for those who routinely experience boredom because of objectively-poorer hearing abilities in those individuals.
A greater trait susceptibility to experiencing boredom was associated with a more aversive subjective experience of hearing loss, and this relationship is mediated by attentional difficulties. This is a novel discovery regarding the cognitive-affective factors that are linked to individual differences in the effect that hearing loss has on individuals’ daily functioning. These results may be helpful for better understanding the determinants of hearing-rehabilitation decisions and how to improve the uptake of treatments for hearing loss. The observational nature of the current study restricts us from drawing any definitive conclusions about the casual directions among the factors being investigated. Further research is therefore needed to establish how individual differences in the characteristic tendency to experience boredom are related to attentional-control difficulties and the experience of hearing-related issues. More research is also required to determine how all of these factors may influence decisions regarding hearing-loss treatments.