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Tinnitus imageTinnitus has been defined as a “false perception of a sound in the absence of an acoustic stimulus”. In New Zealand approximately 6% of the population are affected. In 1 to 3% of the population tinnitus has a moderate to severe effect on the ability to lead a normal life.

Health care systems worldwide lack efficient management plans to significantly reduce the number of clients developing a persistent distressing tinnitus. They would require knowledge of factors that explain how an acute tinnitus turns into a persistent annoying ringing in the ear. Researchers have tried to explain this process with numerous theories. These models have in common that tinnitus is assumed to be processed not only on multiple stages of the auditory pathway but also in non-auditory systems. It is assumed that additional to biomedical variables, cognitive, emotional, behavioural, and social variables play in the aetiology of a persistent and debilitating tinnitus. For example the level of attention paid to the noise and emotional reactions play in most of the mentioned models the role of an aggravating factor of tinnitus perception. Empirical evidence for these theories is mainly based on studies implying cross-sectional designs. However cross-sectional studies do not allow any causal conclusions. Thus it is still rarely understood why only a restricted percentage of patients become severely affected from the ringing in their ear.

The long-term aim of this research theme is to investigate factors that contribute to the risk of acute tinnitus patients to develop a persistent, debilitating tinnitus. The long-term goal is to create an efficient management plan for acute tinnitus patients to reduce their risk of developing tinnitus-related distress and handicap.

Key Researchers


  • Associate Professor Grant Searchfield, University of Auckland, Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences, Hearing and Tinnitus Clinic, New Zealand
  • Professor Omer van den Bergh, KU Leuven, Department of Health Psychology, Belgium
  • Dr Marta Walentynowicz, UC Louvain, Psychological Science Research Institute, Belgium
  • Associate Professor Yiwen Zheng, University of Otago, School of Biomedical Science, New Zealand
  • Professor Thomas Probst, Danube University, Krems, Austria

Active projects

Psychosocial factors as predictors of developing a persistent, distressing tinnitus

This longitudinal observational study with three assessment points will investigate if psychosocial factors can be identified that predict which patients with an acute tinnitus develop a persistent, debilitating ringing in the ear.

Impact of negative emotions on cognitive performance under exposure to a persistent, disturbing auditory stimulus

This experimental trial with three study groups and a repeated measure assessment of selected outcomes will investigate if a negative emotional state has impact on cognitive performance under exposure to a disturbing, persisting, tinnitus-like sound in healthy individuals

The impact of affective compared to sensory-perceptual processing of tinnitus information on retrospective symptom reporting

This quasi-experimental trial with two study groups and a repeated measure assessment will study the effect of an affective in contrast to a sensory-perceptual way of processing an induced tinnitus on retrospective symptom reporting in healthy subjects. This study has already been conducted by a working group at KU Leuven (Belgium) around Professor van den Bergh. The project will be conducted in collaboration with Professor van den Bergh and Marta Walentynowicz (UCLouvain, Belgium).

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