Malte Wöstmann1,2, Julia Erb1,2, Jens Kreitewolf 1,2,3,4, Jonas Obleser1,2
Department of Psychology, University of Lübeck, Lübeck, Germany     
2Center of Brain, Behaviour, and Metabolism, University of Lübeck, Lübeck, Germany;
3Department of Psychology, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada;
4Department of Mathematics and Statistics, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada

Acoustic noise is pervasive in human environments. Some individuals are more tolerant to noise than others. We here demonstrate the considerable explanatory potential of non-auditory determinants of subjective and objective noise tolerance, namely personality traits neuroticism (being emotionally unstable) and extraversion (being enthusiastic, outgoing). In an online study, we collected demographic information and BIG-5 personality traits in a large, age-varying sample (N = 1,103; 18–74 years). Subjective noise tolerance was assessed with established self-report scales (i.e., Weinstein Noise Sensitivity Scale, WNSS; Speech, Spatial and Qualities of Hearing Scale, SSQ) and a self-adjustment of the maximal tolerable noise level (i.e., Acceptable Noise Level, ANL). Objective noise tolerance was quantified as reception threshold for digit triplets in noise (DTT). In agreement with pre-registered hypotheses (, higher neuroticism and lower extraversion independently explained lower scores on all subjective noise tolerance tests, while controlling for demographic factors (e.g., age, gender, education, self-reported hearing loss). Interestingly, this pattern reversed for objective noise tolerance, such that higher neuroticism explained lower (i.e., better) speech-in-noise reception thresholds. We quantified the degree to which listeners of different age and personality profiles over- or underrated their own objective noise tolerance. Older age was associated with overrated noise tolerance, characterized by decreasing objective but largely unchanged subjective noise tolerance. Orthogonal to effects of older age, individuals scoring higher on neuroticism underrated their own noise tolerance (i.e., lower subjective than objective noise tolerance), while high-extraversion overrated it. In sum, these results help build a framework for understanding individual differences in noise tolerance and will help tailor future audiological treatment: Personality holds explanatory power for inter-individual differences in coping with acoustic noise, which is a ubiquitous source of distraction and health hazard in human environments.

Acknowledgements: The present work was supported by the International Hearing Foundation (grant to MW and JO) and an ERC Consolidator grant (ERC-CoG-646696 AUDADPT) to JO.