Do you remember the Q-Ray Bracelets? You know, the magnetic wristbands that promised to furnish instant and substantial pain relief from arthritis and other chronic disorders?

Well, you won’t see much of that promoting anymore; in 2008, the manufacturers of the Q-Ray Bracelets were legally obligated to repay customers a maximum of $87 million as a consequence of deceptive and fraudulent advertising.1

The problem had to do with making health claims that were not backed by any scientific verification. On the contrary, strong evidence was there to suggest that the magnetic wristbands had NO influence 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

Ok, so the Q-Ray bracelets didn’t work (above the placebo effect), yet they ended up selling extraordinarily well. What gives?

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

On an emotional level, you’d absolutely love to believe that using a $50 wristband will wipe out your pain and that you don’t have to trouble yourself with expensive medical and surgical treatments.

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

        a. Arranging surgery for a total knee replacement

        b. Traveling to the mall to purchase a magnetic bracelet

Your natural inclination is to give the bracelet a try. You already desire to trust that the bracelet will deliver the results, 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 specifically this natural tendency, together 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 having difficulties from hearing loss; which solution sounds more appealing?

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

       b. Buying an off-the-shelf personal sound amplifier online for 20 bucks

Just as the magnetized bracelet seems much more appealing than a visit to the physician or surgeon, the personal sound amplifier seems to be much more desirable than a trip to the audiologist or hearing instrument specialist.

However, 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 implying 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 deliver results. Just like hearing aids, personal sound amplifiers consist of a receiver, a microphone, and an amplifier that pfor that matterick up 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.

However 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 person do they function best?

These are precisely the questions that the FDA addressed when it created its guidance on the distinction 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

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 difference is transparent, it’s simple for PSAP producers and sellers to get around the distinction by simply not discussing it. For instance, on a PSAP package, you might find the tagline “turning ordinary hearing into extraordinary hearing.” This statement is unclear enough to avoid the matter completely without having to specify 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 simplified amplification devices intended for people 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 remote conversations, then a $20 PSAP is ideal for you.

If you have hearing loss, however, then you’ll require professionally programmed hearing aids. Whereas more costly, hearing aids offer the power and features needed to correct 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 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 minimization 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 several features that minimize background noise, permit 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 most cases one-size-fits-all.

Seek the help of a hearing professional

If you think you have hearing loss, don’t be tempted by the low-priced PSAPs; rather, set up a consultation with a hearing specialist. They will be able to accurately measure your hearing loss and will ensure that you get the most effective hearing aid for your lifestyle and needs. So while the low-priced PSAPs are enticing, in this scenario you should go with your better judgment and seek expert assistance. 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