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Do you recall the Q-Ray Bracelets? You know, the magnetized bracelets that promised to provide immediate and significant pain relief from arthritis and other chronic diseases?

Well, you won’t find much of that advertising anymore; in 2008, the producers of the Q-Ray Bracelets were legally required to repay customers a maximum of $87 million as a consequence of deceitful and fraudulent advertising.1

The problem had to do with rendering health claims that were not endorsed by any scientific studies. On the contrary, powerful evidence was there to suggest that the magnetized bracelets had NO impact 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

Ok, so the Q-Ray bracelets didn’t show results (outside of the placebo effect), yet they sold amazingly well. What gives?

Without delving into the depths of human psychology, the easy response is that we have a strong inclination 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 donning a $50 wristband will get rid of your pain and that you don’t have to bother with high priced medical and surgical treatments.

If, for instance, you happen to suffer from chronic arthritis in your knee, which choice seems more attractive?

        a. Booking surgery for a total knee replacement

        b. Going to the mall to purchase a magnetized bracelet

Your natural inclination is to give the bracelet a chance. You already desire to trust that the bracelet will do the job, 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 exactly this natural tendency, along with the inclination 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 suffering from hearing loss; which choice sounds more appealing?

       a. Arranging a consultation with a hearing practitioner and acquiring professionally programmed hearing aids

       b. Ordering an off-the-shelf personal sound amplifier via the internet for 20 bucks

Just like the magnetic wristband seems much more desirable than a trip 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.

Nonetheless, 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 idea, 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 work. Just like hearing aids, personal sound amplifiers consist of a receiver, a microphone, and an amplifier that receive sound and make it louder. Reviewed 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:

  1. How well do they function?
  2. For which type of individual do they function best?

These are exactly the questions that the FDA addressed when it issued its recommendations on the distinction between hearing aids and personal sound amplifiers.

As reported 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 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 simple for PSAP manufacturers and sellers 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 statement is obscure enough to skirt the matter entirely without having to describe 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 simple 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 tuning in to remote conversations, then a $20 PSAP is ideally suited for you.

If you have hearing loss, however, then you’ll require professionally programmed hearing aids. While more costly, hearing aids have the power and features required to correct 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 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 have integrated noise minimization and canceling functions, while PSAPs do not.
  • Hearing aids are programmable and can be perfected for optimal hearing; PSAPs are not programmable.
  • Hearing aids contain several features and functions that minimize background noise, permit phone use, and provide for wireless connectivity, for example. PSAPs do not normally contain any of these features.
  • Hearing aids come in a variety of styles and are custom-molded for optimum comfort and cosmetic appeal. PSAPs are generally one-size-fits-all.

Seek the help of a hearing professional

If you feel that you have hearing loss, don’t be tempted by the low-priced PSAPs; instead, book a visit with a hearing specialist. They will be able to accurately appraise your hearing loss and will make sure that you get the correct hearing aid for your lifestyle and needs. So despite the fact that the low-priced PSAPs are enticing, in this scenario you should listen to your better judgment and seek professional help. Your hearing is worth the effort.


  1. Federal Trade Commission: Appeals Court Affirms Ruling in FTCs Favor in Q-Ray Bracelet Case
  2. National Center for Biotechnology Information: Effect of “ionized” wrist bracelets on musculoskeletal pain: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial
  3. Food and Drug Administration: Guidance for Industry and FDA Staff: Regulatory Requirements for Hearing Aid Devices and Personal Sound Amplification Products