Towards an objective measurement of individual listening preferences: Trait consistency and state specificity

Authors: Giulia Angonese1*; Mareike Buhl2; Jonathan A. Gößwein3; Birger Kollmeier4; Andrea Hildebrandt4

1University of Oldenburg and Cluster of Excellence ‘Hearing4all’

2Institut Pasteur, Université Paris Cité and University of Oldenburg

3Fraunhofer IDMT Oldenburg

4University of Oldenburg

Background Proper hearing aid fitting is crucial for user’s satisfaction and listening comfort. Individual traits of listening preferences should be considered during fine-tuning of algorithms like noise reduction. “Noise haters” show preference for greater noise reduction, even at the expense of signal quality. “Distortion haters” accept higher noise levels to avoid signal distortion. This study aims at evaluating the psychometric quality of an objective measure of listening preferences to categorise noise and distortion haters.

Method A noise-distortion trade-off task was part of an Ecological Momentary Assessment (EMA) study with N=185 (106 f, Mage= 63.1, SDage= 6.5) unaided individuals who reported subjective hearing difficulties. The task compared individual preferences in three listening conditions: 1) simple linear gain vs. gain at the expense of clipping distortions with 2) general and 3) adaptive SNR ranges. Baseline assessment included questionnaires on demographics, digital literacy, and sound preferences. The same task was included in the EMA (2 weeks on workdays, morning and evening), along with measures of hearing performance and reports of well-being.

Results Latent state and trait modelling was applied to assess the stability of listening preferences, as measured by the test designed for mobile phone use. Trait stability was found to be sufficiently high. However, there is also a significant amount of state-related variance associated with daily hearing and affect. Latent state and trait mixture model was used to categorise individuals into noise- and distortion-haters.

Conclusion Individualisation of hearing aid fitting could be accelerated by assessing individual listening preferences along the noise-distortion trade-off and their potential day-to-day variability. Moreover, a more satisfying hearing aid experience could be facilitated by providing the user with mobile self-adjustment options that are informed by such preference measurements.