Do you recall the Q-Ray Bracelets? You know, the magnetic bracelets that vowed to provide instantaneous and substantial pain relief from arthritis and other chronic ailments?
Well, you won’t see much of that advertising anymore; in 2008, the creators of the Q-Ray Bracelets were legally required to return customers a maximum of $87 million as a consequence of misleading and fraudulent advertising.1
The issue had to do with making health claims that were not backed by any scientific verification. On the contrary, strong evidence existed to show that the magnetized wristbands had NO influence on pain reduction, which did not bode well for the manufacturer 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 work (besides the placebo effect), yet they ended up selling astonishingly well. What gives?
Without delving into the depths of human psychology, the easy answer is that we have a powerful propensity to believe in the things that may appear to make our lives better and easier.
On an emotional level, you’d absolutely love to believe that donning a $50 wristband 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 approach seems more appealing?
a. Booking surgery for a complete knee replacement
b. Taking a trip to the mall to pick up a magnetized bracelet
Your natural inclination is to give the bracelet a chance. You already desire to believe that the bracelet will work, so now all you need is a little push from the marketers and some social confirmation from seeing other people wearing them.
But it is precisely this natural tendency, together with the inclination 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 struggling from hearing loss; which approach sounds more appealing?
a. Arranging a consultation with a hearing professional and getting professionally programmed hearing aids
b. Buying an off-the-shelf personal sound amplifier via the internet for 20 bucks
Much like the magnetic bracelet seems much more attractive than a trip to the physician or surgeon, the personal sound amplifier seems much more appealing than a trip to the audiologist or hearing instrument specialist.
Nevertheless, as with the magnetic 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 proposing 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 consist of a receiver, a microphone, and an amplifier that pfor that matterick up sound and make it louder. Considered on that level, personal sound amplifiers work fine — and for that matter, so does 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 person do they function best?
These are precisely the questions that the FDA addressed when it produced its recommendations on the distinction 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 other hand, personal sound amplifiers are “intended to amplify environmental sound for non-hearing impaired consumers. They are not intended to compensate for hearing impairment.”
Despite the fact that the difference is transparent, it’s easy for PSAP producers and sellers to get around the distinction by simply not pointing it out. For example, on a PSAP package, you might find the tagline “turning ordinary hearing into extraordinary hearing.” This statement is vague enough to skirt the issue entirely without having to explain 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 basic amplification devices suitable for people with normal hearing. So if you have normal hearing, and you are looking to hear better while you are hunting, bird watching, or listening in to faraway conversations, then a $20 PSAP is well suited for you.
If you suffer from hearing loss, on the other hand, then you’ll need to have professionally programmed hearing aids. Whereas more expensive, hearing aids possess the power and features required to correct hearing loss. Here are some 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 easy 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 reduction and canceling functions, while PSAPs do not.
- Hearing aids are programmable and can be perfected for maximum hearing; PSAPs are not programmable.
- Hearing aids contain multiple features and functions that minimize background noise, enable phone use, and provide for wireless connectivity, for example. PSAPs do not typically contain any of these features.
- Hearing aids come in a variety of styles and are custom-molded for maximal comfort and aesthetic appeal. PSAPs are in most cases one-size-fits-all.
Seek the help of a hearing professional
If you believe that you have hearing loss, don’t be tempted by the low-priced PSAPs; rather, schedule a visit with a hearing specialist. They will be able to precisely measure your hearing loss and will make sure that you receive the correct hearing aid for your lifestyle and needs. So even though the low-cost PSAPs are tempting, in this instance you should listen to your better judgment and seek professional help. Your hearing is well 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