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Energy Bracelets: Embedding Frequencies in Holograms for Fun and Profit

A salesman is demonstrating a new product at a sports store in the local mall. He has a customer stand with his arms extended horizontally to the sides; he presses down on an arm and the customer starts to fall over. Then he puts a bracelet on the customer and repeats the test; this time he is apparently unable to make the customer lose his balance. He has the customer turn his head as far as he can without the bracelet, and shows that he can turn his head a few degrees more after he puts on the bracelet. (Try this yourself: if you turn your head, wait a couple of seconds and try again, you will always be able to turn it further on the second trial). He similarly shows that the customer is stronger when he wears the bracelet. The customer and the onlookers are mightily impressed by the demonstration, by the salesman’s testimonials, and by the endorsements of famous athletes: they buy the bracelets to improve their athletic performance.

These so-called energy bracelets (also pendants and cards) allegedly contain a hologram embedded with frequencies that react positively with your body’s energy field to improve your balance, strength, flexibility, energy, and sports performance; and they also offer all sorts of other benefits (such as helping horses and birds and relieving menstrual cramps and headaches). The claims and the language on their websites are so blatantly pseudoscientific it’s hard to believe anyone would fall for them. Here are just a few examples from the Power Balance website:

  • We react with frequency because we are a frequency.
  • Your body’s energy field likes things that are good for it.
  • Why Holograms? We use holograms because they are composed of Mylar—a polyester film used for imprinting music, movies, pictures, and other data. Thus, it was a natural fit.
  • A primitive form of this technology was discovered when someone, somewhere along the line, picked up a rock and felt something that reacted positively with his body.

People have actually been convinced that this gobbledygook is a scientific explanation. Many sports celebrities swear by the bracelets. Millions have been sold.

Recently an account executive from a public relations/marketing communications firm contacted me about energy bracelets, asking if I would like free samples to check out for myself and if I would be interested in writing about the topic and maybe interviewing his “C-levels,” whatever those are. He represents one of at least 8 companies marketing such devices, but this company, EFX, is allegedly unique because it’s the only one that is embracing scientific studies. He says the other competing brands are avoiding any and all medical/scientific analysis, but EFX currently has “many independent studies being conducted, and is in the process of gathering funds to have an independent double-blind study implemented with seniors.” Are you impressed? They don’t have any evidence that their product works, but they are “in the process of gathering funds” to test it. After selling how many of them?

I don’t know how I got on his list, but he initially addressed me as “Ms.” rather than “Doctor” and he apparently had no idea that I had debunked (actually, ridiculed) a similar product, “Power Balance,” in an article in Skeptical Inquirer some time ago. An expanded version of that article is available online on Device Watch, a Quackwatch affiliate.I am not the only one to pick on them. Richard Saunders, the prominent Australian skeptic, has written about them and has even conducted a double blind test for Australian TV,where they failed miserably. He and Rachael Dunlop also produced their own video about applied kinesiology, explaining the simple biomechanical and psychological tricks that salesmen use to give people the false impression that the products improve their balance, strength, and flexibility. Brian Dunning has debunked energy bracelets on Skepticblog. And Time magazine recently did a story explaining that there is no science behind them but that users don’t seem to care and continue to use them as a kind of mechanized superstition.

When I wrote the Power Balance article, I pointed out that you can’t have a frequency in isolation. A frequency requires a periodic process; you can’t have “33 1/3 per minute” by itself but you can have “33 1/3 revolutions per minute.” A radio wave and a vibrating tuning fork can have a frequency: an armadillo and a tomato can’t. A person can’t “be” a frequency. I e-mailed the company and asked some simple questions like “How do you measure the frequency of a rock?” They didn’t answer.

So when I heard from the EFX account executive, I jumped at the chance to get some answers. I asked if he could ask a company representative

  1. How are the frequencies chosen? How do you determine which ones are beneficial?
  2. Why would one frequency work for different individuals? Aren’t we unique?
  3. What do they mean by frequencies, since a frequency can’t exist alone but has to refer to a number of repetitions of a periodic process per period of time. What is the periodic process that generates the frequency involved in the bracelet technology?
  4. How are frequencies embedded in a hologram? Yes, I know there are proprietary secrets, but perhaps you could provide a general answer that would give me a clue.

The proffered answers to my questions were revealing:

  1. We choose the frequencies based upon research. The electromagnetic spectrum is vast, but there are specific frequencies that have an immediate positive effect on the human body. We determine which ones are the best to use through a lot of trial and error.
  2. We are unique, and we think that no two people react exactly the same to our holograms. However, some frequencies are universal to the human body, which is why our holograms work with 95% of the people that try the product. Some have a relatively mild reaction, and with others the reaction to our holograms is profound.
  3. Yes, a frequency is the number of waves that pass a fixed point in a period of time. It is quite possible (I do it when I program) to use a frequency generating machine, modified to work for our needs to “embed” frequencies onto a hologram (that includes a metallic substance) that will hold those frequencies. You are not going to find much support for this “theory” in mainstream science. Many will say that it is “impossible.” I say that there is still much that science does not know. I have been doing this long enough to know that it does work, it is real, and I don’t worry about the people saying that the idea makes no sense. Time is on my side.
  4. Not going to give you any information about how we embed frequencies in a hologram. That is a trade secret.

The account executive was personally convinced because the headaches he used to get after 3-hour (!) cardio workouts vanished, and since he didn’t anticipate that, he can’t accept it as a placebo effect. He commented

My only estimation is that these frequency generating machines are somehow able to embed a self-sustaining frequency onto the mylar material. I haven’t had the opportunity to do in depth research on the theory personally, but from what I understand, this isn’t a theory that has much research discrediting or supporting it for that matter.

A self-sustaining frequency? In Mylar? I asked if he believed in perpetual motion. He answered

I’m not a scientist and I don’t know enough about how they “embed” the frequencies to verify how it works. All I know is that the team that I’ve met with internally at EFX are very adamant about the product, which is why they are willing to submit to the peer reviewed/double blind studies. “If this doesn’t work, we want to be proven wrong” was something the president once said to me. If he were a scam artist, I doubt very highly that he would be eager to submit his product to these tests.

I had asked if they could supply me with a bracelet that had not had the frequencies embedded, so I could use it as a placebo control to test the “active” bracelet. They couldn’t, because

We are currently engaged in independent peer reviewed double blind studies and would prefer to conclude those before sending blanks if you don’t mind.

I don’t think I need to point out what’s wrong with these answers and this type of thinking. The energy bracelet phenomenon is just one more demonstration that humans are a superstitious lot and that consumers can’t tell science from bullshit. This amounts to a high-tech version of carrying a rabbit’s foot for luck. At least the energy bracelets don’t require killing innocent bunnies: can this be considered progress of a sort?

Posted in: Energy Medicine

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27 thoughts on “Energy Bracelets: Embedding Frequencies in Holograms for Fun and Profit

  1. beatis says:

    Dutch football star Wesley Sneijder has been shortlisted by the Society against Quackery (VtdK) for its Master Kackadoris Prize 2010.

    The spoof award is given to the person or organisation which the society believes has done the most to further bogus medical treatment over the past year. Master Kackadoris is a character from a 17th-century board game, and he is a quack.

    http://www.rnw.nl/english/bulletin/wesley-sneijder-nominated-spoof-prize

    Mr Sneijder and his wife didn’t win the spoof award, this went to the Triodos Bank instead, which is deeply embedded in anthroposophy and invests its money in anthroposophical institutions such as anthroposophical hospitals, schools and medical schools.

  2. beatis says:

    Sorry, forgot to mention Wesley Sneijder and his wife were shortlisted for their promotion of the power bracelet.

  3. Alexie says:

    Interesting that the company actually believes in their product. Many in the sceptic community like to think that these sorts of devices/beliefs are out and out scams that just need to be exposed. If only it was that easy. The reality is that many of the people behind this nonsense passionately, passionately believe in it.

  4. Like NLP, these fads always take some tiny, modest finding, and build an entire solves-all-problems cure out of it.

    I took one of those beginnger martial arts classes a couple decades ago. They had us pair up, get in a stance, and then note how easy it was to gently shove our partner off-balance; then, they said, imagine [fill in the blank] as some image of being stable – surprise! We all were less likely to be nudged over.

    They said: hold your arm out straight in front of you. Then, partner try to bend that arm at elbow – all could. Then, they said, imagine an energy going out your arm, and focus on some spot on the wall where your arm is pointing. The partner could not bend the elbow.

    All of this is directly relevant to martial arts self-defense. But I see how you could use little physiology/balance gimmicks like this to trump up some cosmic vibrational doo-hickey.

    I might as well rub a balloon on my head and note how it sticks to the wall.

  5. Wolfy says:

    Oh, these things are really powerful and they totally work.

    I got one embedded in my chest a few months back and now I fly around the US in my metal bionic suit and beat up bad guys!

  6. windriven says:

    @Dr. Hall

    C-levels are top executives: CEO, CFO, CTO, CIO, etc.

  7. Todd W. says:

    Travis Roy of the Granite State Skeptics gave a talk a couple months back about the energy bracelets and Richard Saunders’ work. He showed some video from Australian TV, and it was quite enlightening. I particularly enjoyed seeing how the trick with pushing the arm down was done. Even tried it on a coworker.

    @MedsVsTherapy

    Your story reminds me of something I saw many years ago on Japanese TV. It was a talk show sort of thing hosted by Beat Takeshi and a bunch of non-Japanese in the audience. One episode, they had some sort of martial arts master on, who claimed he could knock someone over without touching them. He tried it on a few audience member with great success. Then Takeshi wanted to try. The guy told Takeshi, as with all previous volunteers, to stand with his feet together, arms at his sides and eyes closed. Takeshi pointed out that even without the guy doing anything, that was a very unstable posture and after a short while, anyone would lose their balance and fall. So, he insisted on keeping his eyes open to at least help a little with balance, despite the protestations of the martial arts master. I recall some comment along the lines of, “What’s the point of being able to knock over someone standing with their feet together and eyes closed.”

    I’m also not sure if it was the same program or somewhere else, but a martial arts master made the claim he could knock people down before they could reach him. Of course, his students went flying, but when the skeptic tried, he managed to get right up to the master and tap his head.

  8. windriven says:

    I’m surprised that the holographic bracelet lot haven’t devised some mumbo-jumbo nonsense about the vibrations being explained by string theory. Come to think of it, I could probably write a pretty convincing bit of bullcrap along those lines and make a few bucks separating idiots from their money. Come to think of it, theoretical physicists have been doing this for 25 years and, while they have produced some beautiful mathematics and some philosophically satisfying theories, they aren’t very close to anything that rises to the level of science.

  9. Nescio says:

    This reminds me of the Amega Wand, which is currently siphoning large amounts of money out of the pockets of the gullible through MLM. The wand is claimed to cure all sorts of ailments, especially those amenable to the placebo effect. I suggested to Amega that they do some double-blind testing, but they told me, “if we take our attention off those who are benefitting all over the world from what we are doing and put them on a small number of sceptics, we will be wasting everyone’s time and it would be a disservice to the general public”. Google “Perkins Tractors” for a 18th century version of this sort of nonsense that apparently fooled George Washington.

    These sorts of pseudoscientific devices are usually “scientifically validated” using pseudoscientific tests, like live blood analysis, Kirlian photography and various gadgets, often impressive-looking boxes covered in dials and lights (not you Orac) that claim to measure changes in the body’s “life energy” but mostly measure skin resistance in one way or another.

  10. Jann Bellamy says:

    @ windriven
    “I’m surprised that the holographic bracelet lot haven’t devised some mumbo-jumbo nonsense about the vibrations being explained by string theory.”

    And why no “at a quantum level” explanation from these folks? It’s a perfect fit for them.

    Hmmm. I’ll bet the FTC might be interested in these “energy bracelets” so I’ll drop them an e-mail.

  11. superdave says:

    This definitely goes into my “Really?” file.

  12. Loved the applied kinesiology link. I gotta say, I’m always fascinated by the demonstrations of the real phenomenon behind the sham treatments or supernatural events. It’s like seeing how a magician does his tricks.

    As MedsvsTherapy points out a martial artist uses these quirks of human balance, strength, etc to their benefit. When they do it, it is learned and intentional. It is a little hard to believe that someone who is selling this product and using these techniques as demonstration, doesn’t know what they are doing.

  13. windriven says:

    Great idea Jann! Talking this stuff out is wonderful but sometimes I feel as if we could be doing more.

  14. hippiehunter says:

    Skepticbros sell placebo bands which work just as well and cost $2 Australian. The proceeds go to charity. I love wearing mine to sports stores and chemists that sell the “real” bands.
    I put mine on my children instead of immunising them and it works ! well it works just as well as homeopathy.

  15. skeptiverse says:

    Power Balance bands have just been awarded a Shonky award by the Australian consumer group ‘Choice’.

    http://www.news.com.au/business/gallery-e6frflwr-1225943747249?page=1

    The band was tested at CHOICE under controlled lab conditions which showed it did little else than empty purchasers’ wallets.

  16. maus says:

    @Alexie: “Interesting that the company actually believes in their product. Many in the sceptic community like to think that these sorts of devices/beliefs are out and out scams that just need to be exposed. If only it was that easy. The reality is that many of the people behind this nonsense passionately, passionately believe in it.”

    Uh, it’s not either-or. In cases of out and out scams (pyramid schemes, etc.), the people involved can certainly have so much invested in the “product” that they may believe their greed over their common sense.

    I don’t see how this should change anyone’s approach or conception of the issue.

  17. wertys says:

    Somewhat embarrassingly several ‘academic’ chiropractors in my state are apparently planning to use some university money to run a clinical trial of these idiotic things.

    Tooth Fairy Science at it’s absolute best…..perhaps Through the Looking Glass is a better description.

  18. Jann Bellamy says:

    @ wertys

    “Somewhat embarrassingly several ‘academic’ chiropractors in my state are apparently planning to use some university money to run a clinical trial of these idiotic things.”

    Complain, complain, complain. Call the media, call the IRB responsible for this “trial,” call the university, call the science faculty at the university (especially physics faculty), etc. Once the stupidity is exposed you may be able to stop this.

  19. Harriet Hall says:

    Jann,

    The media are not usually very responsive to this kind of thing, but this time they might actually be interested. I’ve already had several media people contact me about energy bracelets because of what I had written. At least a couple of them were planning to do some kind of on-screen test. It’s been in Time magazine, it’s a hot topic. Strike while the iron is hot.

  20. JMB says:

    I completed an undergraduate project in computer generated holograms, so I have some background to comment on the purported holograms. Of course, I don’t have the education of even a BS in physics, so feel free to correct me.

    Holograms are a recording of interference patterns of light, so any hologram will contain some spatial frequencies (the number of dark and light spots per millimeter) in the range of wavelength of light. These are spatial frequencies, not temporal frequencies (the number of peaks and valleys passing a given point in a second). The interference patterns are self sustaining in the same way the text on a printed page is self sustaining. A hologram modifies light that is shown on it by diffraction. It reproduces the amplitude and phase of the waves of light originally recorded on the hologram, but does not alter the frequency. The cheap holograms that are commonly available, and do not require laser light illumination are the rainbow holograms (like those used on credit cards).

    The body does not produce visible light unless you are chewing wintergreen lifesavers, but it does produce heat (infrared). If the hologram was effective in interacting with the infrared radiation, you ought to feel warmer. But if you want to feel warmer, just put on a jacket. If you want to see the size and expense of equipment designed to resonate with the body, and induce the body to give off measurable electromagnetic radiation, go visit your local MRI. The wavelength of microwave radiation in MRU is so much larger than visible light wavelengths that the only interaction between the interference pattern and microwave radiation will be some random scattering.

    The only purpose of the Mylar in the rainbow hologram is to provide some toughness and reflective backing.

    If the hologram is not visible in the bracelet, it cannot diffract the light to alter the phase and amplitude.

    So basic problems with the concept include; holograms do not change the frequency of the illuminating light, only the phase and amplitude, holograms only produce an effect if light illuminates them (difficult through an opaque bracelet), the body does not produce visible light, there are no sustained temporal frequencies.

    Have fun with the bracelets, and if you really want a boost, chew wintergreen mints.

  21. Jim Laidler says:

    Harriet,

    Just for fun, I tried a variation on the “energy bracelet” experiment on unsuspecting students at my university.

    I bought six of the colored silicone rubber bracelets of the type used for promotions and parties and stuck “rainbow” stickers (cheap diffraction grating) on them.

    I then did the “applied kinesthesiology” test on the student volunteers before and after placing the “energy bracelet” on the wrist of their dominant hand, telling them that “many people” had found the bracelets gave them increased strangth, stamina and balance.

    In order to ensure that I wasn’t pulling harder in one set of trials, I used a fish scale hooked to a loop of webbing to pull on their arms – each trial was done with 10 pounds (I couldn’t find a metric fish scale on such short notice) +/- 1 pound.

    All twenty students showed increased resistance to the pull (i.e. less deflection from their standing posture) as rated by my assistant (who didn’t know what I was doing – and may still not know).

    [Note: I suspect this was because on the second trial - after the bracelet was on - they knew what to expect and could counter it more effectively.]

    All students spontaneously stated that they could “feel a difference” or words to that effect. I then asked them how much they would be willing to pay for such a bracelet; the answers ranged from $5 to $30 (these are university students, after all), with a mean of around $10 ($9.87).

    When I told the volunteers that the bracelet was just something I bought at a department store and the sticker was just a pretty sticker, many of them (14) refused to believe me, at first. Three of them offered to buy the bracelet from me even after I told them it was a fake.

    I’ve always said that I could make a fortune if I was willing to sacrifice my self-respect, but now I know it’s true!

    Jim Laidler

    All twenty students were better able to resist my pull

  22. Jim Laidler says:

    Oops! Sorry about the orphan line a the bottom of my last comment – please ignore it.

    Jim Laidler

  23. Scott says:

    Three of them offered to buy the bracelet from me even after I told them it was a fake.

    It would have been at this point where I’d have started to become exceedingly tempted to “teach them a lesson” and benefit myself at the same time. One could even rationalize it that they’ve been clearly informed of the facts, so if they’re determined to be that silly, on their own heads be it.

    Sounds like you’re better able to resist temptation than I.

  24. Todd W. says:

    @Scott

    On the other hand, perhaps they were, themselves, looking to turn a profit, now that they knew how it was done. Why they didn’t just go out and get their own materials cheaper, I dunno. Maybe they’re lazy, too. :)

  25. tmac57 says:

    Rubber bracelets aren’t the only outlet for the hologram crazy.
    Apparently if you combine it with the “ancient wisdom” of acupuncture, you have a miracle product :
    “this “holographic disc” which holds massive amounts of information can be placed on acupuncture points which turns it into a wireless transmitter that effects your body’s energy fields and helps to oxygenate and hydrate you for more energy and better health.”
    Check this out for more laughs :
    http://depletedcranium.com/holographic-disc-harnesses-thousands-of-years-of-eastern-and-western-quackery/

    Note: be sure to watch the “informative video”.

  26. ebohlman says:

    Jim Laidler: The response you got reminds me of some of the parents in the secretin-for-autism trials. Some of them were so wowed by their kids’ improvement that even after the trial ended and it was revealed that their kids were getting placebo, they wanted to continue using it.

    Inspired by your long-ago post on the healthfraud list where you talked about “jargon or pidgin” and offered “my car gets thirty strawberries to the gallon” as an example of a meaningless phrase, I get the urge to go into a sports shop and ask if Power Balance will help me bat more touchdowns when I’m playing basketball.

  27. cloudskimmer says:

    If I buy a Power Balance Bracelet, and it interferes with my vibrational energy making me weaker, or even making me sick, can I sue the company for harming me? If it has some kind of effect, what are the adverse side effects that can occur with its use? Would the company take responsibility for the harm its product can cause?

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