Do Depressed People Hear Things Differently?

two friends at a barThough depression affects 14.8 million Americans each year, it can be a deeply isolating experience. People experiencing depression may feel chronically misunderstood and unheard, and myths about depression can make the experience even worse.

Depression also colors perceptions. Gentle encouragement from a partner can feel like an attack, while a child’s whining may be deeply stressful. According to a new study, people experiencing depression might in fact hear emotional words differently from those without depression.

Can Depression Make You Hear Differently?

According to Zilong Xie, the study’s lead author and a graduate student in communication sciences and disorders at the University of Texas, two types of disruption can interfere with the ability to hear speech. Energetic masking occurs when sounds from other sources, such as construction sites or police sirens, interfere with speech. Informational masking occurs when cognitive and linguistic sources—such as background conversation at a restaurant—interfere with speech perception. Based on previous research, Xie hypothesized that people with depression may be more likely to detect and remember negative information when there is informational or energetic interference.

The research team recruited college students, then divided them into two groups: those with few symptoms of depression, and those with elevated symptoms. Based on previous research, they divided emotional speech types into five categories—happy, sad, angry, afraid, and neutral. They then played recordings of each type of emotional speech to the participants. The participants typed the sentences they thought they heard so that researchers could review their answers. Each participant heard 50 sentences—10 sentences of each type of emotional speech.

The team found that, in an informational masking scenario, those with depression symptoms had more difficulty hearing all types of emotional speech, not just happy speech. Those with the highest levels of depression weren’t better at discerning negative speech content, contrary to the researchers’ expectations. When presented with an energetic masking scenario, though, both groups performed comparably.

Though the results are preliminary, they suggest that people with depression may struggle to understand emotional speech when surrounded by other forms of speech, but not when ambient noise interferes.


Depressed people may have difficulty following emotional speech. (2015, May 22). Retrieved from

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  • kate


    May 27th, 2015 at 7:48 AM

    I wasn’t even thinking about how surrounding noise would affect them but mainly how being in that state of mind could cause you to interpret things differently

  • Sierra


    May 27th, 2015 at 10:52 AM

    When you are depressed there is often a difficulty in processing practically anything. It is hard to shut off all of the n noise that is going on in your head, so it isn’t that you aren’t listening or paying attention, it’s just that there is all of this other fuzzy white noise going on that make sit extremely hard to focus.

  • Brandt


    May 28th, 2015 at 3:42 AM

    Do you think that it could come from reading into what someone is saying and projecting your own emotions onto that?

  • Slade


    May 30th, 2015 at 9:34 AM

    This has to have something to do with how the auditory functions are impacted by the body during a depressive episode

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