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J Am Acad Audiol. 2014 Oct;25(9):893-903. doi: 10.3766/jaaa.25.9.10.

The hearing aid effect in 2013.

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Swarthmore College, Swarthmore, PA.
University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA.



The hearing aid effect is the term used to describe the assignment of negative attributes to individuals using hearing aids. The effect was first empirically identified in 1977 when it was reported that adults rating young children with and without hearing aids assigned negative attributes to the children depicted with hearing aids. Investigations in the 1980s and 1990s reported mixed results related to the extent of the hearing aid effect but continued to identify, on average, some negative attributes assigned to individuals wearing hearing aids.


The specific aim of this research was to investigate whether the hearing aid effect has diminished in the past several decades by replicating the methods of previous studies for testing the hearing aid effect while using updated devices.


Five device configurations were rated across eight attributes. RESULTS for each attribute were considered separately.


A total of 24 adults judged pictures of young men wearing various ear level technologies across 8 attributes on a 7-point Likert scale. Five young men between ages 15 and 17 yr were photographed wearing each of five device configurations including (1) a standard-sized behind-the-ear (BTE) hearing aid coupled to an earmold with #13 tubing, (2) a mini-BTE hearing aid with a slim tube open-fit configuration, (3) a completely-in-the-canal hearing aid that could not be seen because of its location in the ear canal, (4) an earbud, and (5) a Bluetooth receiver.


The 24 raters saw pictures of each of the 5 young men with each wearing one of the 5 devices so that devices and young men were never judged twice by the same observer. All judgments of each device, regardless of the young man modeling the device, were combined in the data analysis. The effect of device types on judgments was tested using a one-way between-participant analysis of variance.


There was a significant difference on the judgment of age and trustworthiness level among the five devices. However, our post hoc analysis revealed that only two significant effects were present. People wearing a completely-in-the-canal aid (nothing visible in the ear) were rated significantly older than people wearing an earbud, and people wearing the standard-size BTE with earmold were rated significantly more trustworthy than people who wore the Bluetooth device.


It was hypothesized that the hearing aid effect would be diminished in 2013 compared with data reported in the past. This proved to be the case, as no hearing aid condition was rated as more negative than any of the non-hearing aid device conditions. In fact, models wearing the standard-size BTE with earmold were rated as more trustworthy than models wearing the Bluetooth device. The standard-sized BTE with earmold condition is the configuration that can be directly compared with previous research because similar devices were used in those studies. These results indicate that the hearing aid effect has diminished, if not completely disappeared, in the 21st century.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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