Variation in Music Player Listening Level as a Function of Campus Location

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Abstract

Background:

There has been significant discussion in the literature regarding music player use by adolescents and young adults, including whether device use is driving an increase in hearing loss in these populations. While many studies report relatively safe preferred listening levels, some studies with college student participants have reported listening habits that may put individuals at risk for noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) if those listening habits continue over the long term.

Purpose:

The goal of the current investigation was to extend listening level data collection sites from urban city settings studied by others to a more rural campus setting.

Research Design:

This was a prospective study.

Study Sample:

Participants were 138 students on the University of Florida campus (94 males, 44 females), 18 years or older (mean = 21 years; range: 18-33 years).

Data Collection and Analysis:

In this investigation, the current output level (listening level) was measured from personal listening devices used by students as they passed by a recruiting table located in one of three areas of the University of Florida campus. One location was in an open-air campus square; the other two locations were outside the campus recreation building (“gym”) and outside the undergraduate library, with participants recruited as they exited the gym or library buildings. After providing written informed consent, participants completed a survey that included questions about demographics and typical listening habits (hours per day, days per week). The output level on their device was then measured using a “Jolene” mannequin.

Results:

Average listening levels for participants at the three locations were as follows: gym: 85.9 ± 1.4 dBA; campus square: 83.3 ± 2.0 dBA; library: 76.9 ± 1.3 dBA. After adjusting to free-field equivalent level, average listening levels were gym: 79.7 ± 1.4 dBA; campus square: 76.9 ± 2.1 dBA; library: 70.4 ± 1.4 dBA. There were no statistically significant differences between male and female listeners, and there were no reliable differences as a function of race. After accounting for daily and weekly use patterns, 5% were deemed at risk based on the criteria put forward by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and 9% were deemed at risk based on the guidance provided by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

Conclusions:

Some 5-10% of the participants were deemed at risk; this finding is consistent with other studies using similar methods. It is possible that the same listeners would have selected different listening levels in other noise backgrounds, however. This unknown variable makes it difficult to estimate risk with a single listening level measurement.

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