Normal-hearing listeners use acoustic cues in speech in order to interpret the speaker's emotional state. This study investigates how hearing loss affects the perception of the emotion dimensions arousal (aroused vs. calm) and valence (positive/negative attitude) in older adults using hearing aids. Affect ratings by 23 hearing aid users are compared for aided and unaided listening and are also compared to ratings by an age-matched group of 24 participants with age-normal hearing. More specifically, we investigate whether wearing a hearing aid improves the correlation between affect ratings and affect-related acoustic parameters.
The rating results for the evaluation of arousal show that the hearing aid users rated utterances as generally more aroused in the aided compared to the unaided condition. Both listening condition and hearing loss severity differences among hearing aid users changed the use of certain acoustic parameters. Compared to the reference group, hearing aid users showed minor differences in the use of intensity for arousal rating.
For valence, hearing loss severity did not influence ratings, and neither did listening condition (aided vs. unaided). For both emotion dimensions, ratings of hearing aid users in the aided condition did not generally differ from those of the participants with age-normal hearing.
Hearing impairment and the use of hearing aids thus matter particularly for the interpretation of arousal. Therefore, future studies on affect perception in hearing aid users should treat perception of arousal and valence separately.