Several determinants of age-related hearing impairment have been identified, but little is known about the predictive value of psychological factors. The present study examined whether five-factor model personality traits are prospectively associated with hearing acuity in middle-aged and older adults.
Participants were adults aged 50 to 97 years (N > 10,000) drawn from the Health and Retirement Study (2012–2016) and the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (2010–2014). In each sample, personality, demographic factors, health-related behaviors, body mass index, and memory function were assessed at baseline, and objective hearing acuity was measured 4 years later.
In both samples, higher conscientiousness and openness were associated with better hearing acuity and lower risk of impairment, whereas neuroticism was associated with a higher risk of hearing impairment. In the Health and Retirement Study and English Longitudinal Study of Ageing, respectively, 1 standard deviation (1-SD) higher conscientiousness, 1-SD higher openness, and 1-SD lower neuroticism were related to 13% to 10%, 8% to 6%, and 10% to 13% lower likelihoods of hearing impairment, respectively. In both samples, additional analyses revealed that physical activity and memory mediated the association between personality and hearing.
The present study provides robust evidence for an association between personality traits and hearing function. The findings broaden knowledge on risk and mitigating factors for age-related hearing impairment, which has implications for the quality of life of middle-aged and older adults.