Tinnitus Affects Emotional Processing Patients with persistent ringing in the ears—tinnitus—process emotions differently in the brain from those with normal hearing, researchers report June 3 in Brain Research. University of Illinois speech and hearing science professor Fatima Husain, who led the study, said previous studies showed that tinnitus is associated with increased stress, anxiety, ... Research in Brief
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Research in Brief  |   September 01, 2014
Tinnitus Affects Emotional Processing
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Hearing Disorders / Research in Brief
Research in Brief   |   September 01, 2014
Tinnitus Affects Emotional Processing
The ASHA Leader, September 2014, Vol. 19, online only. doi:10.1044/leader.RIB4.19092014.np
The ASHA Leader, September 2014, Vol. 19, online only. doi:10.1044/leader.RIB4.19092014.np
Patients with persistent ringing in the ears—tinnitus—process emotions differently in the brain from those with normal hearing, researchers report June 3 in Brain Research. University of Illinois speech and hearing science professor Fatima Husain, who led the study, said previous studies showed that tinnitus is associated with increased stress, anxiety, irritability and depression, all involved with the brain’s emotional processing systems.
Husain used functional magnetic resonance imaging brain scans to better understand how tinnitus affects the brain’s ability to process emotions in three groups of participants: 13 people with mild-to-moderate hearing loss and mild tinnitus (ages 42–64), 12 people with mild-to-moderate hearing loss without tinnitus (ages 39–71), and a control group of 12 age-matched people without hearing loss or tinnitus (ages 41–64). Each person underwent an fMRI while listening to a standardized set of 30 pleasant, 30 unpleasant and 30 emotionally neutral sounds—for example, a baby laughing, a woman screaming and a water bottle opening. The participants pressed a button to categorize each sound as pleasant, unpleasant or neutral.
The tinnitus and normal-hearing groups responded more quickly to emotion-inducing sounds than to neutral sounds; patients with hearing loss, however, had a similar response time to each category of sound. Over all, reaction times of participants with tinnitus were slower than the reaction times of those with normal hearing.
Activity in the amygdala, a brain region associated with emotional processing, was lower in the participants with tinnitus and hearing loss patients than in people with normal hearing. Participants with tinnitus also showed more activity than people with normal hearing in two other brain regions associated with emotion—the parahippocampus and the insula.
“We thought that because people with tinnitus constantly hear a bothersome, unpleasant stimulus, they would have an even higher amount of activity in the amygdala when hearing these sounds, but it was lesser,” Husain said. “Because they’ve had to adjust to the sound, some plasticity in the brain has occurred. They have had to reduce this amygdala activity and reroute it to other parts of the brain because the amygdala cannot be active all the time due to this annoying sound.”
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September 2014
Volume 19, Issue 9