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Businesswoman in office mind-wandering and bored while colleagues are discussing in background

Can’t hear because you’re bored? Or bored because you can’t hear?

A new study might have the answer, showing the relationship between hearing loss and boredom.

In affiliation with Sonova’s group company Connect Hearing Canada, a recent academic study explores the role of boredom in hearing loss. The study is titled “Subjective Impact of Age-Related Hearing Loss Is Worse for Those Who Routinely Experience Boredom and Failures of Attention” and was featured in the August 2022 edition of the Ear and Hearing Journal, a prominent academic journal in audiology. Two of the study’s authors—Dr. Gurjit Singh, a senior research audiologist at Phonak Canada, and Dr. Mark Fenske, a cognitive neuroscientist and Professor of Psychology at the University of Guelph in Ontario Canada — discuss the novelty of their research and the usefulness it provides for audiological care.

Turns out Boredom is not boring at all – A novel concept in the field of Audiology

Congratulations on the story’s publication in one of the recent issues of the Ear and Hearing Journal. Can you tell us how the idea of studying boredom in affiliation with hearing loss came about? 

Singh: One of the best predictors of who gets a hearing aid is how much does your hearing loss bother you? In terms of how hearing is measured, typically this is assessed by an audiogram. However, what’s fascinating is that often, two people are not bothered by the same audiometric loss to the same extent. We thought, well, 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 very 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 very easily.

Fenske: My personal experience with hearing loss is that, if I go to a busy place and I am trying to have a conversation with all the background noise, I cannot stay engaged in a conversation, and soon the conversation becomes boring. Boredom is highly tied to attention, and we all want to remain engaged in some sort of satisfying activity. So, when we talk about being engaged with anything — that concerns attention. That is what our initial conversations revolved around, trying to understand the role that boredom plays in the experience of hearing loss.

Singh: What made that question unique 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. 

Results indicate easily bored = easily bothered

What did the study reveal about the correlation between boredom and hearing loss? 

Singh: Our study involved participants with only low-level hearing loss, but not all people with a mild loss of hearing are the same. Some people with mild 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.  

When looking at the connection between cognition and hearing, the concept of cognitive load has appeared in some studies — it refers to the effort when the brain has to piece together conversations in loud environments when not every part of the message can be heard. Did you cover this in your study as well? 

Fenske: The questionnaire handed out to study participants involved looking at the individual's subjective impact — how difficult aspects of life can be because of hearing loss. We looked at aspects like the increasing volume of TV audio because it became difficult to hear. Considering hearing loss is a sensory impairment, it can prevent people from being able to engage. That is why it takes more brain processing to fill in those blanks for a person with hearing loss — because the brain needs to be much more active in resolving ambiguities.

Behind the scenes: bringing the study to life

Who helped you make the study a reality? 

SinghSonova’s Audiological Care business has a fundamental interest in understanding their patients better, so I reached out to their brand Connect Hearing Canada. Managing Director Lilika Beck and Marketing Director Todd Jones were my primary contacts and were fantastic in supporting this research. This was a complex study and took significant resources and time to gather the data belonging to approximately 100 Connect Hearing clinics spread across Canada with close to 2,000 participants in the study. Several undergraduates at the University of Guelph helped us to process the data.

Fenske: Gurjit and I are featured in this interview, but Carolyn Crawford is really the first author of this paper, which was her master's thesis. This project was ambitious since it involved collecting tons of data, and she worked on writing it with Kalisha Ramlackhan. But also, Hannah Brock, Ariella Golden, Sibley Hutchinson, and Brooke Party were the team of undergraduate research assistants working alongside Carolyn and Kalisha. They were responsible for transcribing all the data and entering it into a system creating a whole quality control process to ensure no mistakes would happen. The whole team did excellent work.

Helping to understand the potential benefit of treatment

What is the overall significance of this study in connection with hearing health? 

Fenske: From my perspective, this study fits well into efforts to understand hearing health holistically. It 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.

More about the study

The study, “Subjective Impact of Age-Related Hearing Loss Is Worse for Those Who Routinely Experience Boredom and Failures of Attention” was featured in Ear and Hearing: August 25, 2022edition of the official journal of the American Auditory Society.

Crawford, C. M., Ramlackhan, K., Singh, G., & Fenske, M. J. (2022). Subjective Impact of Age-Related Hearing Loss Is Worse for Those Who Routinely Experience Boredom and Failures of Attention. Ear &Amp; Hearing, Publish Ahead of Print.