Do you recall the Q-Ray Bracelets? You know, the magnetic wristbands that vowed to provide instant and significant pain relief from arthritis and other chronic conditions?
Well, you won’t find much of that advertising anymore; in 2008, the producers of the Q-Ray Bracelets were legally required to reimburse customers a maximum of $87 million as a result of deceitful and fraudulent advertising.1
The problem had to do with rendering health claims that were not supported by any scientific verification. On the contrary, strong research existed to reveal that the magnetic bracelets had NO influence 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
Fine, so the Q-Ray bracelets didn’t show results (beyond the placebo effect), yet they ended up selling astonishingly well. What gives?
Without diving into the depths of human psychology, the straight forward answer is that we have a strong proclivity to believe in the things that may appear to make our lives better and quite a bit easier.
On an emotional level, you’d love to believe that sporting a $50 wristband will get rid of your pain and that you don’t have to bother with high-cost medical and surgical procedures.
If, for example, you happen to suffer the pain of chronic arthritis in your knee, which decision seems more attractive?
a. Booking surgery for a complete knee replacement
b. Traveling to the mall to pick up a magnetized bracelet
Your instinct is to give the bracelet a shot. You already want to believe that the bracelet will work, so now all you need is a little push from the marketers and some social confirmation from witnessing other people using them.
But it is specifically this natural tendency, combined with the tendency 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 struggling from hearing loss; which decision sounds more attractive?
a. Scheduling a consultation with a hearing practitioner and obtaining professionally programmed hearing aids
b. Buying an off-the-shelf personal sound amplifier on the internet for 20 dollars
Much like the magnetic wristband seems much more appealing than a trip to the physician or surgeon, the personal sound amplifier seems to be much more appealing than a trip to the audiologist or hearing instrument specialist.
Nevertheless, as with the magnetized bracelets, 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 deliver results.
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 capture sound and make it louder. Thought of 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 deliver the results?
- For which type of individual do they function best?
These are precisely the questions that the FDA addressed when it released its guidelines on the distinction between hearing aids and personal sound amplifiers.
As stated by 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 simple for PSAP manufacturers and sellers to circumvent the distinction by simply not pointing it out. For example, on a PSAP package, you may find the tagline “turning ordinary hearing into extraordinary hearing.” This claim is obscure enough to avoid the issue completely without having to explain exactly what the catch phrase “turning ordinary hearing into extraordinary hearing” even means.
You get what you pay for
As stated by the FDA, PSAPs are simplified amplification devices created for people with normal hearing. So if you have normal hearing, and you want to hear better while you are hunting, bird watching, or tuning in to remote conversations, then a $20 PSAP is perfect for you.
If you have hearing loss, however, then you’ll require professionally programmed hearing aids. While more costly, hearing aids offer the power and features necessary to address 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 permit 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 functions, while PSAPs do not.
- Hearing aids are programmable and can be perfected for optimum hearing; PSAPs are not programmable.
- Hearing aids contain numerous features that minimize background noise, allow for phone use, and provide for wireless connectivity, for example. PSAPs do not usually include any of these features.
- Hearing aids come in a variety of styles and are custom-molded for optimum comfort and aesthetic appeal. PSAPs are in general one-size-fits-all.
Seek the help of a hearing professional
If you think that you have hearing loss, don’t be tempted by the low-priced PSAPs; rather, arrange for a visit with a hearing specialist. They will be able to precisely appraise your hearing loss and will ensure that you receive the correct hearing aid for your lifestyle and needs. So while the low-cost PSAPs are enticing, in this instance you should listen to your better judgment and seek expert assistance. Your hearing is well worth the work.
- 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