It is a sad reality that pseudoscience, particularly medical pseudoscience, is well-funded. Pseudoscientists use money to build a fan base and fund their activities, as well as market their products and defend their pseudoscientific claims. Without effective regulation, companies that profit from pseudoscientific products profit enormously from an ignorant public that accepts their products without question. When we look at a product like the Power Balance Hologram Bracelet, we can see that pseudoscience has a three-pronged marketing strategy: deceptive demonstrations, endorsements, and convincing the scientifically illiterate to buy these products. With the pseudoscientific support of the marketing strategies, products such as Power Balance Hologram Bracelet can be harmful to the population.
Power Balance Hologram Bracelet
The Power Balance bracelets are silicone rubber-like wristbands embedded on two Mylar holograms. Created by Power Balance, LLC in 2006, the company claims that the wristbands are created using performance enhancing technology and can enhance the athletic performance of the person wearing it. According to the creators, the embedded holograms on the Power Balance bracelet can react positively with the wearer’s body’s natural energy field, giving him/her improved balance, straight and flexibility. Moreover, other benefits such as faster synaptic response, muscle response enhancement, boosted stamina, and improved gravitational balance has been aligned with the product.
The first marketing strategy as mentioned earlier is demonstrations. In the case of Power Balance bracelets, three “convincing” tests are demonstrated in their marketing criteria: the balance test, the flexibility test, and the strength test (“Power Balance Test Video”).
The Balance Test:
To demonstrate the perceived ability to increase power, the customer is asked to stand his feet together, and extend their arms lengthwise sideways. After that, he is asked to lift one of his/her feet (to find their balance point). With the customer on that position, the demonstrator presses the hand of the customer (the side of the lifted leg) until he/she stumbles.
This procedure is repeated with the customer wearing the wristband.
The result shows that, without the bracelet, the customer balance is limited and stumbles easily. When he/she wears the bracelet, his balance is enhanced and does not stumble as easily as before. This shows that the perceived ability of the bracelet increasing strength.
The Flexibility Test:
To demonstrate whether the bracelet enhances flexibility, the customer is asked to stand with his/her feet together with his back towards the demonstrator. The customer is then asked to extend one arm straight out to the side, and reach behind as far as they can, just twisting their waist and without moving their feet. The demonstrator marks the furthest spot the customer reaches.
The procedure is then repeated but with the customer wearing the Power Balance bracelet.
The result shows that the customer was able to stretch further wearing the bracelet than without one. This concluded that the bracelet enhanced the customer’s flexibility to some degree.
The Strength Test:
The customer is asked to stand with his feet together and arms, capped on his side, cupped together. The demonstrator goes ahead and pulls the cupped hand downwards, slowly. The demonstrator placed the bracelet on the customer’s hand and repeated the procedure.
Without the bracelet, the customer stumbles easily on the side. However, once he wears the bracelet, he finds it easier to stay upright. This effect showed that the bracelet increases the strength of anyone wearing it.
As the creators assert, they have been able to “harness naturally occurring frequencies and programmed them into a Mylar hologram” which is able to increase the balance, the strength, as well as flexibility of the wearer (“Power Balance Test Video”). As long as the bracelet is at least five cm away from the body, the energy performance increase is expected.
Many professional athletes have worn the bands in several televised events and even praised its wonders in enhanced performance. Basketballers such as Shaquille O’Neal, NFL players such as Mathew Stafford, and MLB pitchers such as Scott Kazmir have come forward to give testimonies that this product actually works.
With such testimonies, thousands of people have been convinced enough to buy and wore them in training and when facing physical and mental challenges. The company has also continued making profits.
Effects of the Power Balance Hologram: Science v Pseudo-Science
Revisiting the tests, we can be able to debunk the pseudoscientific conclusions drawn from the demonstrations:
In the balance test, the demonstrator places more outward force on the customer who makes him stumble easily. When the customer wears the bracelet, the demonstrator exerts less inward pressure which contributes to the balance of the customer. Since the customer expects more force the second time, he is firmer and more resistant to the push. With these two factors, the bracelet is made to appear as if it contributes to the balance when it actually does not.
This is true in the strength test too. First, the customer expects more pressure to be placed on his hand the second time, hence more resistance (Randi, James). The same way, the direction and the posture of the demonstrator when applying the pressure is slightly different and outward. With the customer expecting and resisting the pressure, he most likely does not see this.
In the flexibility test, we know that human beings are more flexible after stretching than before. Therefore, when stretching the second time, he is bound to stretch further than before. This, with the expectation of the effects of the bracelet, makes it possible for the customer to stretch further.
Science offers further explanation on the subject (Randi, James). All the tests are subjected to the placebo effect to the human brain. The placebo effect explains that when one expects something to improve their outcome, and they actually get that thing, their outcomes improves dramatically. In this sense, since one expects that the product will improve their balance, strength, and flexibility, it does exactly that. The effects of the Power Balance bracelet is hence more psychological than physical. With physics, we know that when a person pushes you downwards and outwards, you tend to lose balance. This is what they do on the first test on balance. After the bracelet, he has pushed downwards and inwards the body, making him more stable. Thus the bracelet does nothing to improve the balance.
Dangers of Pseudoscientific Claims made by Power Balance
The lack of scientific evidence in marketing products such as Power Balance can be harmful to the general population. In this case, due to the claims that the bracelet enhances strength, flexibility, and balance, the consumers can expect these products to provide their claims. When these fails, they may experience psychological torture which affects them negatively.
This is the same case with other products that claim to enhance performance, stamina, or alternative medication to the scientific ones. People follow this pseudoscientific evidence to the letter and sometimes ignore traditional medications, and when these fail, they die. Practices such as cupping, chiropractic, alternative medicines to cancer, alphabiotics, and energy medicine among others have been mired with unsupported claims (“What’s The Harm?”). The marketing of these claims makes the people live tested and trusted medication and procedures and sometimes lead to their deaths (“What’s The Harm?”).
Before one accepts the pseudoscientific claims, one needs to investigate them. Scientific evidence or explainable facts should be the guiding light when adopting procedures, especially those involving health. For that matter, we see that through scientific evaluation, the hype placed on Power Balance bands are nothing short of marketing gimmick backs by pseudoscientific claims and pure fallacy. With millions of people wearing and wasting money on it, science shows that it does not work.
“Power Balance Test Video.” Youtube, 2009, https://youtu.be/6gIMxjr3n5U.
“What’s The Harm?”. Whatstheharm.Net, 2017, http://whatstheharm.net/index.html.
Randi, James. “Power Balance.Pdf.” Docs.Google.Com, 2013, https://docs.google.com/viewer?a=v&pid=sites&srcid=ZGVmYXVsdGRvbWFpbnxwcm9mZXNzb3JtYXJraGFycmlzb258Z3g6MTk2NWVhYWVjNDI1ZjQ4OQ.