Anxiety is found to play an important role in the severity complaint of tinnitus patients. However, when investigating anxiety in tinnitus patients, most studies make use of verbal reports of affect (e.g., self-report questionnaires and/or interviews). These methods reflect conscious appraisals of anxiety, but do not map underlying processing
mechanisms. Nonetheless, such mechanisms, like the automatic processing of affective information, are important as they modulate emotional experience and emotion-related behaviour. Research showed that highly anxious people process threatening information (e.g., fearful and angry faces) faster than non-anxious people. Therefore, this study investigates whether tinnitus patients process affective stimuli (happy, sad, fearful, and angry faces) in the same way as highly anxious people do. Our sample consisted out of 67 consecutive tinnitus patients. Relationships between tinnitus
severity, pitch, loudness, hearing loss, and the automatic processing of affective information were explored. Results indicate that especially in severely distressed tinnitus patients, the severity complaint is highly related to the automatic processing of fearful (r = 0.37, p\0.05), angry (r = 0.44, p\0.00) and happy (r = -0.44, p\0.00)
faces, and these relationships became even stronger after controlling for hearing loss. Furthermore, in contrast with findings on the relation between audiological characteristics (pitch and loudness) and conscious report of anxiety, we did find that the audiological characteristic, loudness, tends to be in some degree related to the automatic processing of fearful faces (r = 0.25, p = 0.08). We conclude that tinnitus is an
anxiety-related problem on an automatic processing level.