Earplugs can reduce the risk of hearing loss and tinnitus. However, earplug use during noisy recreational activities is uncommon, and methods for increasing uptake and regular use have had limited efficacy. The aim of the present study was to examine barriers and enablers of ever-performers (e.g., people who have used earplugs) and never-performers (e.g., people who have not used earplugs) to identify targets to inform the content of interventions to increase uptake and regular use of earplugs in recreational settings. The Capabilities, Opportunities, and Motivations model of Behaviour (COM-B) informed the outline for 20 semi-structured telephone interviews (ever-performers, N = 8, age range = 20–45 years; never-performers, N = 12; age range = 20–50 years). Thematic analysis was used to identify barriers and enablers to earplug use, which were mapped onto the Theoretical Domains Framework (TDF). Six key domains of the TDF were identified. Ever-performers described being more exposed to ‘social influences’ (e.g., facilitators such as friends/peers) and were more positive than never-performers concerning ‘beliefs about consequences’ (e.g., earplug protection outweighs any negative effects on listening/communication). Involvement of ‘emotion’ (e.g., fear of losing ability to listen to music) and ‘reinforcement’ tactics (e.g., creating habits/routines) were discussed by ever-performers, but were not mentioned by never-performers. Both groups reported lack of ‘environmental context and resources’ (e.g., prompts and cues), and their own ‘memory, attention, and decision processes’ (e.g., deciding when to use earplugs) as barriers to earplug use. The present research identifies the variables that would need to change in order to increase earplug uptake and use in recreational settings among ever-performers and never-performers. Further work is required to translate these findings into testable interventions by selecting appropriate intervention functions (e.g., modelling), policy categories (e.g., communication/marketing), behaviour change techniques (e.g., demonstration of behaviour), and mode of delivery (e.g., face-to-face).
Keywords: hearing protection interventions; hearing conservation; hearing protection behaviour; behaviour change; recreational noise-induced hearing loss; COM-B model; TDF; qualitative research