Posted on Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Can Your Ears Tell You How You Feel?

Baby making sad face

Treating hearing loss has been shown to have a positive impact on brain health, on anxiety, and on depression. And if this weren't compelling enough to drive people toward treating their hearing loss, new research indicates that people use hearing to understand their own emotions.

The average person waits six years to treat mild hearing loss. Not only does this mean that there are sounds that are missing from their every day experiences, it also means they are communicating less effectively and perhaps even missing subtle emotional cues.

Communicating emotion relies on subtle variations in sound. So says a recent study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) and reported on by ScienceDaily. The study took recordings of people's voices as they read and manipulated them with a digital audio platform so that the voices sounded either angry, sad, or happy. According to the scholarly article reported on by ScienceDaily, "The study found that the participants were unaware that their voices were being manipulated, while their emotional state changed in accordance with the manipulated emotion portrayed. This indicates that people do not always control their own voice to meet a specific goal and that people listen to their own voice to learn how they are feeling."

How people use hearing continues to astound researchers, and this study raises tantalizing new questions about how hearing loss might affect emotional states. Though research into this subject has barely begun, this one study suggests that a subtle form of communication, even with oneself, is done through listening. Interestingly enough, another study showed people with hearing loss begin to change their speech patterns "within seconds of removing their devices." Could this mean there is a potential for people with untreated hearing loss to be less cognizant not just of others' emotions but of their own emotional state? That remains to be seen.

How much of our emotional awareness is tied into hearing and whether diminished hearing can even inhibit emotional awareness hasn't been determined, but hearing health professionals have long been aware that people with untreated hearing loss often miss subtle communication cues. That might be because acording to an article about Auditory Verbal Therapy, "While adults with typical hearing need 50% audibility of the speech signal to understand 80% of the message, adults with hearing loss require 80% audibility to understand 80% of what is said."

Of course, as people with hearing loss know, hearing is NOT listening. Having the auditory information available is only part of the equation. Many people with average hearing, hear things but don't process those sounds. They don't listen. And that is one place where the person with hearing loss might have an advantage. When sounds are returned to their ears, through hearing technologies, they appreciate and notice them. And because of that are more likely to "tune in" and listen to what is being said. Making them, ultimately, better at communicating, listening, and engaging with the world around them.

So if you have untreated hearing loss, please see an audiologist or hearing health professional. With untreated hearing loss, you don't always know what you're missing. And, it turns out, the ears can tell us more than you think!

If you'd like to learn more, see your hearing health provider. If you need help finding a hearing health provider click HERE to be connected with the largest network of trusted hearing health professionals in the nation!

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