This study examined listening levels and duration of portable listening devices (PLDs) used by people with diversity of ethnicity, education, music genre, and PLD manufacturer. The goal was to estimate participants’ PLD noise exposure and identify factors influencing user behavior.


This study measured listening levels of 160 adults in 2 New York City locations: (a) a quiet college campus and (b) Union Square, a busy interchange. Participants completed a questionnaire regarding demographics and PLD use. Ordinary least squares regression was used to explore the significance of demographic and behavioral factors.


Average listening level was 94.1 dBA, with 99 of 160 (61.9%) and 92 of 159 (57.5%) exceeding daily (LA8hn) and weekly (LAwkn) recommended exposure limit, respectively. African American participants listened at the highest average levels (99.8 dBA).


A majority of PLD users exceeded recommended exposure levels. Factors significant for higher exposure were ethnicity and age; factors not significantly associated with exposure were gender, education, location, awareness of possible association between PLD use and noise-induced hearing loss, mode of transportation, device manufacturer, and music genre. Efforts to effect behavior changes to lessen noise-induced hearing loss risk from PLD use should be sensitive to the cultural differences within the targeted population.


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