Tinnitus and its effect on working memory and attention

J Speech Lang Hear Res. 2006 Feb;49(1):150-60. doi: 10.1044/1092-4388(2006/012).


Purpose: In 2 experiments, the assumption that continual orienting to tinnitus uses cognitive resources was investigated. It was hypothesized that differences in performance of tinnitus and control groups would manifest during demanding or unfamiliar tasks that required strategic, controlled processing and that reduced performance was not related solely to levels of anxiety.

Method: Nineteen participants with chronic, moderate tinnitus-matched with a control group for age, education, and verbal IQ-completed auditory verbal working-memory and visual divided-attention tasks, with task order counterbalanced across participants.

Results: As hypothesized, reading span of the tinnitus group was significantly shorter than that of the control group (Task 1). In Task 2, the tinnitus group recorded slower reaction times and poorer accuracy in the most demanding dual task context. Covariate analyses revealed that differences in task performance were not attributable to anxiety scale scores.

Conclusions: Complaints of the distracting effects of tinnitus have a basis in performance test outcomes. Future research should investigate effects of severe tinnitus and possible effects of hearing loss. At the level of theory development, results from this study suggest that tinnitus affects cognition to the extent that it reduces cognitive capacity needed to perform tasks that require voluntary, conscious, effortful, and strategic control.

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation
  • Adult
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Anxiety
  • Attention*
  • Female
  • Hearing Loss / complications
  • Hearing Loss / physiopathology
  • Hearing Loss / psychology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Memory*
  • Middle Aged
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Regression Analysis
  • Tinnitus / complications
  • Tinnitus / physiopathology*
  • Tinnitus / psychology