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e-meter (electro-psychometer)

An important part of a Scientology auditing session is the E-meter. It lures people into Scientology and, for some, gives a scientific basis to the methods used. Scientologists are accepted or expelled according to its revelations. It helps to extract the Scientologists' most intimate secrets and confessions, including those of a sexual and criminal nature. It helps to determine the length, intensity and nature of the auditing session. It helps to determine the date and details of their present problems and their past lives. --Paulette Cooper

The e-meter (or electro-psychometer) is a device invented in the 1940s by a chiropractor named Volney Mathison. It was originally called the Mathison Model B Electropsychometer and was promoted as an aid to psychotherapy and chiropractic.*  However, the name on the patent application for the first e-meter was that of L. Ron Hubbard (1911-1986), author of Dianetics and founder of Scientology, which credits Hubbard with invention of the device.*  (It is ironic that Scientology considers psychotherapy to be a great evil.) According to Hubbard's son Ronald: "My father obtained the rights to the E-meter in1952 from Volney Mathison in the same manner that he does everything - through fraud and coercion."* Hubbard's patent is for a modified version of Mathison's device that was developed by Scientologists Don BreedingMark Super VII E-Meter from the St. Petersbugr Times and Joe Wallis in 1958.*

In the early 1950s, Hubbard discovered that everything is striving to survive and that something is "entangling man" (Carroll 1996). Hubbard thought he had figured out what it was that was entangling us. Man "was tangling himself up with combinations of mental image pictures." He claims he measured these pictures using an e-meter. He claims the device could measure the response of the soul "while exteriorized from a being." The device sends a small bit of electrical energy down wires attached to two cans (electrodes) held by the user and measures resistance, i.e., to what degree a body opposes the passage of an electric current. Resistance is measured in ohms and is affected by such physical things as moisture, temperature, and pressure, each of which can change without the user being conscious of it and none of which need be directly related to any thoughts or feelings of the user. Basically, the e-meter is "an ohm-meter with continuously variable range and sensitivity settings."*

At a purely physical level, resistance changes are changes in the flow of electrons. Changes in the flow of electrons can be due to changes in the source of the flow or changes in the medium through which the electrons flow. Since the e-meter cans are handheld, some of the changes in resistance it picks up may be due to unconscious changes in applied pressure (the ideomotor effect), but this does not appear to be the main factor in e-meter changes.* The changes are likely due either to changes in hand moisture or temperature, or to the flow of ions to the surface of the skin. "Scientologists acknowledge that people with unusually dry hands may require some skin moisturizer in order to make a good contact with the electrodes. One wonders how many auditor candidates have availed themselves of this solution to their spiritual problems."*

Chris Schafmeister, while a biophysics graduate student at the University of California, San Francisco, wrote a paper in which he argues that the e-meter measures modulation in the flow of electrons brought to the surface of the skin by ions that have probably traversed "through long muscle cells, long nerve axons, or through the bloodstream."*  Schafmeister proposed that

a scientologist learns through feedback during auditing and feedback from the E-meter to exert control over the semi-automatic mechanisms that control enough membrane bound ion channels to change their body resistance enough to provoke a measurable response in the E-meter.

It is biofeedback in its most basic sense.

Martin Hunt, an ex-Scientologist and auditor, also believes that biofeedback mechanisms are at work here. According to Thomas J. Wheeler, biofeedback that involves "measurement of muscle tension and skin temperature (higher temperature associated with relaxation)" is not controversial. Such techniques "have been incorporated into many treatment programs."

The electrical changes measured by an e-meter may be directly related to changes in one's thoughts or mental images, but what significance or meaning one gives to these changes in electrical resistance - beyond basic principles of biophysics - is arbitrary and subjective. The meaningfulness of the connection between the electrical resistance of a human hand or fingers and mental images is taken on faith. Belief in the e-meter's capacity to tap into the depths of the soul might be the best proof that Scientology is a religion; for, it requires a belief contrary to everything science has taught us about electricity and the brain.

The e-meter has gone through several generations and the current most advanced model is known as the Super Mark VII. An electrical engineer who examined the meter in 1995 "estimated that devices of this type, custom-manufactured and sold in low volume, would normally retail for around $300."* Today, the device is sold by the Church of Scientology for about $4,000.* Scientologists produce about 10,000 e-meters a year - among other things - at a $50-million plant in Hemet, California. It takes about an hour and 20 minutes to construct one meter (Tobin 1998). (For a look inside the Mark VII, see www-2.cs.cmu.edu/~dst/Secrets/E-Meter/Mark-VII/. The device is basically a Wheatstone bridge. It has an Intel 8051 8-bit microprocessor, unnecessary for measuring skin resistance but required for a hookup that allows monitoring by a third person.)

According to the Church of Scientology, the e-meter is a "pastoral counseling device" that helps locate "spiritual distress or travail."* The e-meter is also used as a recruiting device. For example, at the Downtown Plaza in Sacramento, California, Scientologists rent a kiosk for $2,000 a month. They offer free "stress tests" to passersby. The stress test consists of the test subject holding the cans of an e-meter while a Scientologist asks such questions as "What causes you stress?" The Scientologist then interprets any changes in the e-meter's readings.

Scientologists believe the meter can gauge energy in the body and read spiritual trauma through a process called auditing. By addressing that trauma, people can neutralize these charges, they say. Working their way through stages, they eventually reach a state they call clear. Scientologists believe auditing, using the E-meters, is a guide to self-discovery.

"When a person has stressful thoughts, those thoughts produce physical changes," says Mike Klagenberg, spokesman for the church in the Sacramento region. "The E-meter measures those physical changes." (Garza 2005)

According to Scientology:

When the E-Meter is operating and a person holds the meter’s electrodes, a very tiny flow of electrical energy (about 1.5 volts – less than a flashlight battery) passes down the wires of the E-Meter leads, through the person’s body and back into the E-Meter. The electrical flow is so small, there is no physical sensation when holding the electrodes.

The pictures in the mind contain energy and mass. The energy and force in pictures of experiences painful or upsetting to the person can have a harmful effect upon him. This harmful energy or force is called charge.

When the person holding the E-Meter electrodes thinks a thought, looks at a picture, re-experiences an incident or shifts some part of the reactive mind, he is moving and changing actual mental mass and energy. These changes in the mind influence the tiny flow of electrical energy generated by the E-Meter, causing the needle on its dial to move. The needle reactions on the E-Meter tell the auditor where the charge lies, and that it should be addressed by a process. (e-meter.org)

The above explanations are based on pure speculation. There is no concept in physics or neurology of the mass and energy of a mental image. This is not to say that thoughts don't have physical effects. They do, of course, but it really shouldn't be much of a revelation to find out that when one thinks of the most upsetting thing of the day that it has a negative physical effect. Finding a reading on a meter while having a thought or feeling is little more than a stage prop, a bit of theater to make the process of telling you what you already know seem magical and scientific. An interpretation in terms of engrams, the reactive mind, and other jargon just adds to the theater and makes the process seem more plausible than it really is.

It is interesting that the following disclaimer accompanies the e-meter:

By itself, this meter does nothing. It is solely for the guide of Ministers of the Church in Confessionals and pastoral counselling. The Electrometer is not medically or scientifically capable of improving the health or bodily function of anyone and is for religious use by students and Ministers of the Church of Scientology only. HUBBARD, E-METER and SCIENTOLOGY are trademarks and service marks owned by RTC and used with its permission.

This disclaimer is in response to a 1971 ruling by the United States District Court, District of Columbia, that declared: "the E-meter has no proven usefulness in the diagnosis, treatment or prevention of any disease, nor is it medically or scientifically capable of improving any bodily function." This ruling came after nearly a decade of legal wrangling with the government over concern "that the devices were misbranded by false claims that they effectively treated some 70 percent of all physical and mental illness" (Janssen 1993).

In 1963, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) raided the church in Washington DC and confiscated their e-meters. The FDA sued the Church of Scientology for fraudulent medical claims and called the e-meter a fraudulent healing device. The church after many years finally settled with the FDA. In part, the ruling that the church was to abide by states concerning the e-meter:

"The device should bear a prominent, clearly visible notice warning that any person using it for auditing or counseling of any kind is forbidden by law to represent that there is any medical or scientific basis for believing or asserting that the device is useful in the diagnosis, treatment, or prevention of any disease. It should be noted in the warning that the device has been condemned by a United States District court for misrepresentation and misbranding under the Food and Drug laws, that use is permitted only as part of religious activity, and that the E-meter is not medically or scientifically capable of improving the health or bodily functions of anyone.

"Each user, purchaser, and distributee of the E-meter shall sign a written statement that he has read such a warning and understands its contents and such statements shall be preserved." (United States of America, Libelant, v. An Article or Device... "Hubbard Electrometer" or "Hubbard E-Meter" etc., Founding Church of Scientology et al., Claimants, No. D.C. 1-63, United States District Court, District of Columbia, July 30, 1971 (333 F. Supp. 357) (Jacobsen 1996)

Nevertheless, Scientologists continue to use the e-meter in auditing, although some models are designed for ease of use by a single person, presumably to help with their spiritual development. The Church is careful not to claim publicly that the e-meter has any health benefits. Some Scientologists, such as John Travolta and Priscilla Presley, say they use the e-meter on a regular basis. Any value the device has comes from the subjective validation of the user, however. It is not difficult to see how such a device could provide comfort to people, especially if they believe that thoughts have mass and energy (but they are not talking about anything neurological) and they are very creative. For such people, the e-meter could well be useful for self-discovery. The e-meter readings can stimulate such folks to reflect on their thoughts and actions, which may lead to active planning for the future. The process could be an assist to self-hypnosis, psyching oneself up with confidence and determination. With a little communal reinforcement, it is easy to see how one might come to believe that a device that measures nothing but electrical resistance could actually provide useful information about what one fears and what to do with one's life. Add trust and it is not too hard to understand how many otherwise bright and creative people would let someone interpret an ohmmeter as if it revealed something important about the human soul.

See also confirmation bias, radionics, Dianetics, and The Sound of One Mouth Blathering (1996) by Robert T. Carroll October 22: a review of The Rediscovery of the Human Soul by L. Ron Hubbard, 1996..

further reading


McCoy, Bob. Quack! : Tales of Medical Fraud from the Museum of Questionable Medical Devices (Santa Monica Press, 2000).


Quack "Electrodiagnostic" Devices by Stephen Barrett, M.D.

Scientology and Its E-Meter, from Chapter 23, "The Gadgeteers" by Wallace Janssen (pp. 321-335) in Stephen Barrett, M.D., and William Jarvis, Ph.D. (editors), The Health Robbers, Prometheus Books, Buffalo NY (1993).

What is the e-meter?

Secrets of Scientology: The E-Meter

Medical Claims Within Scientology's Secret Teachings (1996) by Jeff Jacobsen

The E-Meter, Chapter 18 of The Scandal of Scientology, by Paulette Cooper

Religious Gadget Thursday: The E-Meter

Biophysics and the E-Meter by Chris Schafmeister

Scientology's war on psychiatry, by Katharine Mieszkowski, Salon.com

War of the Words by Wendy Grossman

A place called 'Gold' by Thomas C. Tobin. St. Petersburg Times, October 25, 1998

The Profit: The Movie Scientology Won't Let You See

pastoral counseling device

"Attention shoppers - Scientologists hail mall-goers to offer stress tests on E-meters" by Jennifer Garza Sacramento Bee, July 23, 2005.

Hyman, Ray. "How People Are Fooled by Ideomotor Action"

Without Volition - The Presence and Purpose of Ideomotor Movement by Barrett L. Dorko, P.T.

Last updated 15-Jan-2014

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