Psychosocial and physiological correlates of self-reported hearing problems in male and female musicians in symphony orchestras

Dan Hasson, Töres Theorell, Yvonne Liljeholm-Johansson, Barbara Canlon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

37 Scopus citations


Experimental and epidemiological research indicate an association between long-term stress and hearing problems, yet the mechanisms underlying these disorders are not yet fully established. Thus, in order to better understand the pathogenesis of stress-related hearing problems, the present study explored the symptoms and general physiological and psychosocial status of musicians in symphony orchestras. Orchestral musicians are an ideal group to study since physical, psychosocial, work-environmental and acoustic stressors are highly prevalent. The subjects where obtained from two different studies. The first group included 250 participants from 12 orchestras and is entitled "the epidemiological study". The second group, entitled "the longitudinal study", included 47 musicians who were assessed at five occasions (every half year) during two years. Thirty-one of the 47 participants were selected for sampling of physiological variables, i.e. 24-hour ECG to assess heart rate variability to evaluate the synergistic action of the autonomic system as well as saliva cortisol and testosterone levels. The results indicate that self-reported hearing problems are associated with perceived poorer psychosocial environment, as well as mental health symptoms and stress. High-frequency power of heart rate variability (parasympathetic activity) showed a negative relationship to hearing problems, implying a poorer ability to "unwind" from stress. Cortisol levels were not correlated to hearing problems whereas testosterone levels showed a tendency to be lower in subjects with hearing problems than in others. These findings provide evidence for a relationship between long-term stress and self-reported hearing problems and demonstrate a protective role of parasympathetic and anabolic activity on hearing status.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)93-100
Number of pages8
JournalInternational Journal of Psychophysiology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Nov 2009
Externally publishedYes


  • Cochlea
  • Gender
  • Heart rate variability (HRV)
  • Musicians
  • Parasympathetic
  • Psychosocial
  • Stress
  • Sympathetic
  • Tinnitus


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