Music to whose ears? The effect of social norms on young people’s risk perceptions of hearing damage resulting from their music listening behaviour
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Professional and community concerns about the potentially dangerous noise levels for common leisure activities has led to increased interest on providing hearing health information to participants. However, noise reduction programmes aimed at leisure activities (such as music listening), face a unique difficulty. The noise source that is earmarked for reduction by hearing health professionals is often the same one which is viewed as pleasurable by participants. Furthermore, these activities often exist within a social setting, with additional peer influences which may influence behaviour. The current study aimed to gain a better understanding of social-based factors that may influence an individual’s motivation to engage in positive hearing health behaviours. 484 participants completed questionnaires examining their perceptions of the hearing risk associated with music listening, and asking for estimates of their own and their peer’s music listening behaviours. Participants were generally aware of the potential risk posed by listening to personal stereo players (PSPs) and the volumes likely to be most dangerous. Approximately one in five participants reporting using listening volumes at levels perceived to be dangerous, an incidence rate in keeping with other studies measuring actual PSP use. However, participants showed less awareness of peers’ behaviour, consistently overestimating the volumes at which they believed their friends listened. Misperceptions of social norms relating to listening behaviour may decrease individuals’ perceptions of susceptibility to hearing damage. The consequences for hearing health promotion are discussed, along with suggestions relating to the development of new programs.