Exploring the consequences of tinnitus on working memory and attention

PhD student

Najibah Mohamad

Supervisory team

Professor Deborah Hall
Dr Derek Hoare

Lakshman Ramu
Samuel Jenkins


Universiti Sains Malaysia and Ministry of Higher Education, Malaysia

Study period

2013 - 2015

This PhD project was a novel research study to answer one of the questions that had been prioritised by patients and clinicians (http://www.hearing.nihr.ac.uk/research/evidence-based-research-set-to-shape-future-tinnitus-studies-the-james-lind). The project asked whether tinnitus really does affect people’s memory and ability to concentrate.

From a review of the literature, we developed a model (see diagram below) that included a number of key components such as:

  Structural Equation Model of effect of tinnitus on memory and attention

             Structural Equation Model of effect of tinnitus on memory and attention


In our study, all participants (people with tinnitus) completed a range of questionnaires and memory and attention tests (puzzles and tasks). There are different types of attention, each of which can be measured using a different set of behavioural tests:

Two hundred people who had varying degrees of tinnitus severity took part in this study. We also examined the effects of factors other than tinnitus which might have an effect on our results (hearing difficulties, general levels of distress, and intelligence). A statistical technique called Structural Equation Modelling was used for analysis of the full set of data to see whether the model we developed is accurate in describing how different factors explain how tinnitus affects concentration.

The results do support the notion that tinnitus can effect memory and attention. Overall, the findings point to a main (although weak) effect of tinnitus on the ability to switch attention between tasks, and a weak effect on performing tasks involving memory.  These results confirm those in some smaller previous studies.  These also concluded that tinnitus interferes with working memory and attention switching.