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

Well, you won’t see much of that promoting anymore; in 2008, the makers of the Q-Ray Bracelets were legally required to repay customers a maximum of $87 million due to misleading and fraudulent advertising.1

The issue had to do with rendering health claims that were not endorsed by any scientific studies. On the contrary, powerful research was there to suggest that the magnetic wristbands had NO effect on pain reduction, which did not bode well for the developer 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 work (beyond the placebo effect), yet they ended up selling extraordinarily well. What gives?

Without delving into the depths of human psychology, the straight forward response is that we have a powerful bias to believe in the things that appear to make our lives better and easier.

On an emotional level, you’d absolutely love to believe that donning a $50 bracelet will eliminate your pain and that you don’t have to trouble yourself with high-cost medical and surgical procedures.

If, for example, you happen to struggle with chronic arthritis in your knee, which solution seems more enticing?

        a. Booking surgery for a total knee replacement

        b. Taking a trip to the mall to pick up a magnetic bracelet

Your instinct is to give the bracelet a chance. You already wish 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 having seen other people using them.

But it is precisely this natural instinct, along 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 suffering from hearing loss; which alternative sounds more appealing?

       a. Booking an appointment with a hearing practitioner and acquiring professionally programmed hearing aids

       b. Buying an off-the-shelf personal sound amplifier on the internet for 20 dollars

Much like the magnetized wristband seems much more appealing than a trip to the doctor or surgeon, the personal sound amplifier seems much more desirable 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 implying that personal sound amplifiers, also referred to as PSAPs, are fraudulent — or even that they don’t work.

On the contrary, personal sound amplifiers often do give good results. Just like hearing aids, personal sound amplifiers come with a receiver, a microphone, and an amplifier that receive sound and make it louder. Regarded on that level, personal sound amplifiers work reasonably well — and for that matter, the same is true for 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 work?
  2. For which type of individual do they function best?

These are exactly the questions that the FDA answered when it introduced its advice on the difference 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

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.”

Even though the difference is transparent, it’s easy for PSAP manufacturers and sellers to avoid the distinction by simply not bringing it up. For example, on a PSAP package, you may find the tagline “turning ordinary hearing into extraordinary hearing.” This claim is vague enough to skirt the issue entirely without having to explain exactly what the slogan “turning ordinary hearing into extraordinary hearing” even means.

You get what you pay for

As stated by the FDA, PSAPs are simple amplification devices designed for individuals with normal hearing. So if you have normal hearing, and you are looking to hear better while you are hunting, bird watching, or tuning in to faraway conversations, then a $20 PSAP is perfect for you.

If you suffer from hearing loss, on the other hand, then you’ll need to have professionally programmed hearing aids. Although more expensive, hearing aids offer the power and features needed to correct hearing loss. The following are a few 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 enable 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 fine-tuned for optimal hearing; PSAPs are not programmable.
  • Hearing aids contain numerous features and functions that block out background noise, allow for phone use, and provide for wireless connectivity, for example. PSAPs do not typically contain any of these features.
  • Hearing aids come in various styles and are custom-molded for maximum comfort and cosmetic appeal. PSAPs are usually one-size-fits-all.

Seek the help of a hearing professional

If you believe you have hearing loss, don’t be tempted by the inexpensive PSAPs; instead, arrange a visit with a hearing specialist. They will be able to precisely measure your hearing loss and will ensure that you get the most suitable hearing aid for your lifestyle and needs. So although the low-cost PSAPs are tempting, in this circumstance you should go with your better judgment and seek professional help. Your hearing is worth the hassle.


  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
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