Do you remember the Q-Ray Bracelets? You know, the magnetic bracelets that vowed to provide immediate and substantial pain relief from arthritis and other chronic disorders?
Well, you won’t find much of that marketing anymore; in 2008, the developers of the Q-Ray Bracelets were legally required to reimburse 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 backed by any scientific studies. In fact, strong research existed to suggest that the magnetized bracelets had NO influence on pain reduction, which did not bode well for the producer but did wonders to win the court case for the Federal Trade Commission.2
The wishful thinking fallacy
Fine, so the Q-Ray bracelets didn’t show results (besides the placebo effect), yet they sold astonishingly well. What gives?
Without diving into the depths of human psychology, the straight forward response is that we have a strong predisposition to believe in the things that appear to make our lives better and quite a bit easier.
On an emotional level, you’d love to believe that putting on a $50 bracelet will eradicate your pain and that you don’t have to trouble yourself with pricey medical and surgical procedures.
If, for example, you happen to struggle with chronic arthritis in your knee, which option seems more enticing?
a. Booking surgery for a complete knee replacement
b. Traveling to the mall to pick up a magnetized bracelet
Your natural inclination is to give the bracelet a try. You already desire to trust that the bracelet will get the job done, so now all you need is a little push from the marketers and some social confirmation from having seen other people wearing them.
But it is precisely this natural inclination, along with the tendency to seek out confirming evidence, that will get you into the most trouble.
If it sounds too good to be true…
Keeping in mind the Q-Ray bracelets, let’s say you’re suffering from hearing loss; which decision sounds more desirable?
a. Arranging a consultation with a hearing practitioner and purchasing professionally programmed hearing aids
b. Buying an off-the-shelf personal sound amplifier online for 20 bucks
Just as the magnetized wristband seems much more attractive than a visit to the doctor or surgeon, the personal sound amplifier seems to be much more appealing than a visit to the audiologist or hearing instrument specialist.
Nevertheless, 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 impression, I’m not saying 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 give good results. Just like hearing aids, personal sound amplifiers consist of a receiver, a microphone, and an amplifier that detect sound and make it louder. Reviewed 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.
But when you ask if PSAPs work, you’re asking the wrong question. The questions you should be asking are:
- How well do they function?
- For which type of people do they work best?
These are precisely the questions that the FDA addressed when it issued its guidance 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
On the contrary, 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 transparent, it’s easy for PSAP producers and retailers to circumvent the distinction by simply not mentioning it. For example, on a PSAP package, you may find the tagline “turning ordinary hearing into extraordinary hearing.” This promise is unclear enough to skirt the matter entirely without having to define exactly what the expression “turning ordinary hearing into extraordinary hearing” even means.
You get what you pay for
As reported by by the FDA, PSAPs are basic amplification devices designed for people with normal hearing. So if you have normal hearing, and you desire to hear better while hunting, bird watching, or tuning in to far off conversations, then a $20 PSAP is perfect for you.
If you have hearing loss, however, then you’ll need to have professionally programmed hearing aids. Whereas more costly, hearing aids provide the power and features needed to address hearing loss. The following are a few of the reasons why hearing aids are superior to PSAPs:
- Hearing aids amplify only the frequencies that you have trouble 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 have built in noise reduction and canceling features, while PSAPs do not.
- Hearing aids are programmable and can be fine-tuned for maximum hearing; PSAPs are not programmable.
- Hearing aids contain multiple features and functions that minimize background noise, provide for phone use, and provide for wireless connectivity, for example. PSAPs do not normally come with any of these features.
- Hearing aids come in various styles and are custom-molded for optimum comfort and aesthetic appeal. PSAPs are ordinarily one-size-fits-all.
Seek the help of a hearing professional
If you think that you have hearing loss, don’t be enticed by the inexpensive PSAPs; rather, book a visit with a hearing instrument specialist. They will be able to precisely appraise your hearing loss and will make sure that you get the most suitable hearing aid for your lifestyle and needs. So even though the low-cost PSAPs are enticing, in this instance you should go with your better judgment and seek expert assistance. Your hearing is worth the effort.
- Federal Trade Commission: Appeals Court Affirms Ruling in FTCs Favor in Q-Ray Bracelet Case
- National Center for Biotechnology Information: Effect of “ionized” wrist bracelets on musculoskeletal pain: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial
- Food and Drug Administration: Guidance for Industry and FDA Staff: Regulatory Requirements for Hearing Aid Devices and Personal Sound Amplification Products