The "Joy of Hearing" Project: Exploring Emotions in Hearing Aid Users

by Sara Grace Davis

The Hearing Industry Research Consortium awarded a team of researchers at the School of Communication Sciences & Disorders funding to study the impact of hearing aids on emotion in daily listening. Led by Dr. Jani Johnson, this research will examine the effects of hearing loss on emotion from various angles. Along with her co-investigator, Dr. Miriam van Mersbergen, Dr. Johnson will study how people with a hearing loss process the emotions contained in others' speech. For many configurations of hearing loss, individuals lose access to prosodic information that can typically be gathered from the speech signal (e.g., pitch and intensity changes). It is likely that emotional processing might improve by wearing a hearing aid. She is also interested in investigating emotional arousal in response to different kinds of sounds. Emotionally evocative sounds, such as a baby cooing, do not typically evoke the same reaction from people with a hearing loss. It is possible that they do not hear or recognize the sound, or that their hearing aids distort the sound such that it limits emotional responses. This study will also examine this aspect of emotional processing. Finally, the co-investigators will explore how using hearing aids affects emotional arousal. Participants will use wearable sensors, similar to smartwatch technology, to measure their emotional/arousal states in daily life.

This project has field components, behavioral laboratory components, and psychophysiological components that triangulate to uncover the kinds of daily impacts, positive and/or negative, hearing aids have on people with hearing loss. This project is unique because of the collaboration between disciplines. Dr. Johnson, an audiologist and director of the Hearing Aid Research Laboratory, is very familiar with hearing aid processing, and has conducted many hearing aid effectiveness studies that include behavioral measures in the laboratory and assessments of real-world listening outcomes in the field. Dr. van Mersbergen, a speech-language pathologist and director of the Voice, Emotion, and Cognition Laboratory, has expertise in psychophysiological measurement and emotion processing. Ed Brainerd, Manager of Computer Systems Support for the CRISCI, has also assisted this project by collaborating with Dr. Johnson to develop an app for Ecological Momentary Assessment (EMA) of emotion and listening outcomes in the field. Instead of asking people to wear their hearing aids for a month and then fill out questionnaires, this app alerts and quizzes the participants throughout their listening experiences. This research team is excited to combine their different expertise for this comprehensive study.