Do you remember the Q-Ray Bracelets? You know, the magnetic wristbands that vowed to furnish instantaneous and substantial pain relief from arthritis and other chronic disorders?

Well, you won’t see much of that marketing anymore; in 2008, the developers of the Q-Ray Bracelets were legally obligated to repay customers a maximum of $87 million thanks to misleading and fraudulent advertising.1

The problem had to do with rendering health claims that were not endorsed by any scientific verification. In fact, powerful evidence was there to show that the magnetized bracelets had NO effect on pain reduction, which did not bode well for the creator but did wonders to win the court case for the Federal Trade Commission.2

The wishful thinking fallacy

Okay, so the Q-Ray bracelets didn’t show results (above the placebo effect), yet they sold amazingly well. What gives?

Without delving into the depths of human psychology, the quick response is that we have a powerful disposition to believe in the things that appear to make our lives better and more convenient.

On an emotional level, you’d love to believe that wearing a $50 bracelet will wipe out your pain and that you don’t have to bother with expensive medical and surgical procedures.

If, for instance, you happen to struggle with chronic arthritis in your knee, which solution sounds more enticing?

        a. Scheduling surgery for a complete knee replacement

        b. Going to the mall to purchase a magnetic bracelet

Your instinct is to give the bracelet a chance. You already wish to trust that the bracelet will do the job, so now all you need is a little push from the marketers and some social confirmation from observing other people using them.

But it is exactly this natural instinct, along with the inclination to seek out confirming evidence, that will get you into the most trouble.

If it sounds too good to be true…

Bearing in mind the Q-Ray bracelets, let’s say you’re suffering from hearing loss; which choice sounds more appealing?

       a. Booking a consultation with a hearing practitioner and purchasing professionally programmed hearing aids

       b. Buying an off-the-shelf personal sound amplifier on the internet for 20 dollars

Much like the magnetic bracelet seems much more appealing than a visit to the physician or surgeon, the personal sound amplifier seems to be much more desirable than a visit to the audiologist or hearing instrument specialist.

But unfortunately, as with the magnetized wristbands, personal sound amplifiers won’t cure anything, either.

The difference between hearing aids and personal sound amplifiers

Before you get the wrong idea, I’m not suggesting that personal sound amplifiers, also referred to as PSAPs, are fraudulent — or even that they don’t function.

On the contrary, personal sound amplifiers often do work. Just like hearing aids, personal sound amplifiers come with a receiver, a microphone, and an amplifier that detect sound and make it louder. Considered on that level, personal sound amplifiers work fine — and for that matter, the same is true for the act of cupping your hands behind your ears.

However when you ask if PSAPs work, you’re asking the wrong question. The questions you should be asking are:

  1. How well do they work?
  2. For which type of person do they function best?

These are exactly the questions that the FDA addressed when it introduced its recommendations on the difference between hearing aids and personal sound amplifiers.

According to the FDA, hearing aids are defined as “any wearable instrument or device designed for, offered for the purpose of, or represented as aiding persons with or compensating for, impaired hearing.” (21 CFR 801.420)3

Quite the opposite, personal sound amplifiers are “intended to amplify environmental sound for non-hearing impaired consumers. They are not intended to compensate for hearing impairment.”

Even though the distinction is clear, it’s simple for PSAP producers and sellers to get around the distinction by simply not mentioning it. For instance, on a PSAP package, you may find the tagline “turning ordinary hearing into extraordinary hearing.” This claim is obscure enough to skirt the matter completely without having to describe exactly what the phrase “turning ordinary hearing into extraordinary hearing” even means.

You get what you pay for

As reported by by the FDA, PSAPs are simplified amplification devices designed for individuals with normal hearing. So if you have normal hearing, and you are looking to hear better while hunting, bird watching, or tuning in to faraway conversations, then a $20 PSAP is ideal for you.

If you have hearing loss, on the other hand, then you’ll need professionally programmed hearing aids. Whereas more costly, hearing aids provide the power and features needed to correct hearing loss. Listed below are a few of the reasons why hearing aids are superior to PSAPs:

  • Hearing aids amplify only the frequencies that you have difficulty hearing, while PSAPs amplify all sound indiscriminately. By amplifying all frequencies, PSAPs won’t make it possible for you to hear conversations in the presence of background noise, like when you’re at a party or restaurant.
  • Hearing aids come with built in noise minimization and canceling features, while PSAPs do not.
  • Hearing aids are programmable and can be perfected for optimal hearing; PSAPs are not programmable.
  • Hearing aids contain several features that block out background noise, permit phone use, and provide for wireless connectivity, for example. PSAPs do not usually contain any of these features.
  • Hearing aids come in several styles and are custom-molded for maximal comfort and cosmetic appeal. PSAPs are usually one-size-fits-all.

Seek the help of a hearing professional

If you believe that you have hearing loss, don’t be enticed by the low-cost PSAPs; rather, arrange an appointment with a hearing specialist. They will be able to accurately quantify your hearing loss and will make sure that you get the correct hearing aid for your lifestyle and needs. So even though the low-priced PSAPs are tempting, in this case you should listen to your better judgment and seek expert assistance. Your hearing is well worth the work.