Do you remember the Q-Ray Bracelets? You know, the magnetic bracelets that promised to supply immediate and substantial pain relief from arthritis and other chronic conditions?
Well, you won’t see much of that promoting anymore; in 2008, the creators of the Q-Ray Bracelets were legally obligated to repay customers a maximum of $87 million due to deceitful and fraudulent advertising.1
The issue had to do with rendering health claims that were not supported by any scientific evidence. On the contrary, powerful research was there to show 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 (above the placebo effect), yet they ended up selling extremely well. What gives?
Without diving into the depths of human psychology, the straight forward answer is that we have a powerful propensity to believe in the things that appear to make our lives better and quite a bit easier.
On an emotional level, you’d absolutely love to believe that wearing a $50 bracelet will eradicate your pain and that you don’t have to bother with pricey medical and surgical treatments.
If, for instance, you happen to struggle with chronic arthritis in your knee, which decision seems more appealing?
a. Arranging surgery for a complete knee replacement
b. Taking a trip to the mall to purchase a magnetic bracelet
Your instinct is to give the bracelet a shot. 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 instinct, 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…
Keeping in mind the Q-Ray bracelets, let’s say you’re struggling from hearing loss; which decision sounds more desirable?
a. Arranging a consultation with a hearing practitioner and obtaining professionally programmed hearing aids
b. Ordering an off-the-shelf personal sound amplifier online for 20 dollars
Just like the magnetized bracelet seems much more appealing than a visit to the doctor or surgeon, the personal sound amplifier appears much more desirable than a visit to the audiologist or hearing instrument specialist.
But unfortunately, as with the magnetic 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 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 reasonably well — 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 addressed when it presented its advice 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.”
Despite the fact that the distinction is transparent, it’s easy for PSAP manufacturers and sellers 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 claim is unclear enough to skirt the matter entirely without having to explain exactly what the catch phrase “turning ordinary hearing into extraordinary hearing” even means.
You get what you pay for
As outlined by by the FDA, PSAPs are simple amplification devices ideal 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 faraway conversations, then a $20 PSAP is perfect for you.
If you suffer from hearing loss, however, then you’ll need professionally programmed hearing aids. While more costly, hearing aids include the power and features needed 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 allow you to hear conversations in the presence of background noise, like when you’re at a party or restaurant.
- Hearing aids come with integrated noise minimization and canceling features, while PSAPs do not.
- Hearing aids are programmable and can be perfected for maximum hearing; PSAPs are not programmable.
- Hearing aids contain various features and functions that block out background noise, allow for 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 maximum comfort and cosmetic appeal. PSAPs are generally 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; instead, arrange a visit with a hearing specialist. They will be able to accurately appraise your hearing loss and will make sure that you get the ideal hearing aid for your lifestyle and needs. So although the low-priced PSAPs are tempting, in this circumstance you should listen to your better judgment and seek professional assistance. Your hearing is worth the hassle.