Do you recall the Q-Ray Bracelets? You know, the magnetic bracelets that vowed to provide instantaneous 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 thanks to deceitful and fraudulent advertising.1
The issue had to do with making health claims that were not supported by any scientific confirmation. In fact, powerful research was there to suggest that the magnetized bracelets 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 (beyond the placebo effect), yet they sold amazingly well. What gives?
Without delving into the depths of human psychology, the simple reply is that we have a strong bias to believe in the things that seem to make our lives better and more convenient.
On an emotional level, you’d absolutely love to believe that putting on a $50 bracelet will take away your pain and that you don’t have to bother with expensive 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 total knee replacement
b. Taking a trip to the mall to purchase a magnetic bracelet
Your natural inclination is to give the bracelet a chance. You already wish to trust that the bracelet will work, so now all you need is a little push from the advertisers and some social confirmation from seeing other people donning them.
But it is exactly this natural desire, 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 suffering from hearing loss; which decision sounds more attractive?
a. Booking an appointment with a hearing specialist and acquiring professionally programmed hearing aids
b. Buying an off-the-shelf personal sound amplifier via the internet for 20 dollars
Just as the magnetized bracelet seems much more appealing than a trip to the physician or surgeon, the personal sound amplifier seems to be much more attractive 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 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 work. Just like hearing aids, personal sound amplifiers contain a receiver, a microphone, and an amplifier that pfor that matterick up sound and make it louder. Viewed 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 individual do they work best?
These are exactly the questions that the FDA answered when it issued its guidelines on the difference between hearing aids and personal sound amplifiers.
As reported by the FDA, hearing aids are classified 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.”
Although the distinction is transparent, it’s easy for PSAP manufacturers and retailers to avoid 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 promise is obscure enough to avoid the matter completely without having to define exactly what the expression “turning ordinary hearing into extraordinary hearing” even means.
You get what you pay for
As outlined by by the FDA, PSAPs are simplified amplification devices meant for those with normal hearing. So if you have normal hearing, and you wish to hear better while you are hunting, bird watching, or listening in to distant conversations, then a $20 PSAP is ideal for you.
If you suffer from hearing loss, on the other hand, then you’ll need professionally programmed hearing aids. Although more costly, hearing aids possess the power and features needed to address hearing loss. Listed below 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 allow 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 features, while PSAPs do not.
- Hearing aids are programmable and can be perfected for optimal hearing; PSAPs are not programmable.
- Hearing aids contain various features and functions that block out background noise, enable phone use, and provide for wireless connectivity, for example. PSAPs do not typically possess any of these features.
- Hearing aids come in a variety of styles and are custom-molded for maximal comfort and aesthetic appeal. PSAPs are as a rule one-size-fits-all.
Seek the help of a hearing professional
If you believe you have hearing loss, don’t be enticed by the low-priced PSAPs; rather, schedule a visit with a hearing specialist. They will be able to accurately quantify your hearing loss and will make sure that you receive the correct hearing aid for your lifestyle and needs. So while the low-priced PSAPs are tempting, in this case you should go with your better judgment and seek expert help. Your hearing is worth the work.