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placebo jewelry

Placebo jewelry (PJ) includes tiaras, hairpins, earrings, nose rings (studs and chains), grills, necklaces, torques and chokers, armlets, bracelets, watches, anklets, rings, and the like that are worn for protection, health, or to increase one's skill at some task. PJ is especially popular with athletes and other superstitious people.

PJ items may be made out paper, plastic, metal, rubber, cloth, animal parts (such as a rabbit's foot), minerals (such as a crystal), plants (such as a shamrock), or just about anything else that can be worn on or about the body. The key to identifying something as PJ is not what it is made of or how it looks, but what the wearer believes: if you attribute magical powers to your piece of jewelry, it is PJ by definition. This implies, of course, that the same piece of jewelry worn by one person can be PJ, while for another the piece may be an ornament or symbolic proclamation only. There are also placebo tattoos and placebo hand-held objects such as rosaries and prayer beads.

In ancient times, PJ was believed to have the power to ward off evil and evil spirits or to provide protection from some supernatural being. Charms and amulets continue to be popular among the superstitious, as do fetishes and talismans.

Religious PJ continues to be popular with people of many faiths. Many Christians, for example, wear PJ that has had some sort of incantation uttered over it by someone claiming authority to imbue the item with protective power. Some Jews wear scraps of red string to protect them from the evil eye or add to the oddity of their celebrity status. Some Jews and Muslims wear the hamsa, a symbol dating back to prehistoric times, for their evil eye protection. The Egyptian ankh remains popular after several millennia, as do the Indian and Tibetan Om symbols.

Healers and witch doctors throughout history have used various stones and animal or plant parts as charms and talismans, one of the more odd ones being the use of the jackal's horn in certain areas of India, Nepal, and Sri Lanka.

In recent years, PJ has seen explosive growth in the so-called advanced industrial societies among believers in energy healing. Rieki is just one form of energy healing where entrepreneurs have filled a niche with reiki jewelry. Others have been promoting takionic jewelry, apparel, patches, and lotions. Takionic products, we are told, have "aligned atomic polarities [that] enhance the body's natural ability to draw from the Tachyon Field for its energy needs." Like every other promoter of PH, the takionik folks try to entice athletes by claiming that their products will help them perform better by making them faster, giving them greater endurance, and lessening their recovery time from injuries.

The Q-Link line of PJ claims to neutralize the harmful stress effects of electromagnetic fields (EMF) from computers, cell phones, and other electronic devices.* The Q-Ray line, on the other hand, claims it is "the world's only ionized bracelet of its kind for balancing your body's yin-yang (positive & negative ions)." The Q-Ray bracelet supposedly will "energize your whole body and relieve pains the natural way by boosting chi."

In addition to PJ believed to ward off the evil effects of EMFs, there have been many PJ products made of copper or magnetic metals believed to have curative powers. Despite what anyone tells you, the use of these items for warding off EMFs or arthritis is not controversial. Any benefit anyone receives from wearing any of the items mentioned here is due to a placebo effect only (unless, of course, one of the items is thick enough to stop a small bullet).

Since there seems to be some confusion among the general public regarding the placebo effect, I will try to explain what is intended by that catch-all term for all the beneficial health or performance effects that come from PJ. Some benefit comes from expectation and suggestion. Being encouraged to be hopeful by a person or an ad appearing to be authoritative can have a beneficial effect on its own by enhancing one's mood and reducing stress. Expecting to see an improvement can lead one to be selective in perception and memory, focusing on what appears to confirm the notion that the product works. Testimonials enhance the confirmation bias.and strengthen the illusion that the product works. Since you've been misled to believe that the product works by aligning your body's energy, tweaking your cell's frequencies, strengthening your aura, infusing your energy field with chi or tachyonic energy, or some such thing, you attribute any benefit you observe to the PJ itself. Also, people who think it is possible for jewelry to have magical powers are ruled by magical thinking and will easily find excuses for failures. Perhaps they're not wearing the jewelry correctly or perhaps somebody else's talisman is more powerful than theirs. Perhaps they bought a defective model. Maybe it wasn't "authentic," i.e., really sanctified by the shaman or priest. Maybe the power has worn off, or comes and goes. Rationization among magical thinkers knows no limits. Thus, even an obvious dud from a PJ line never gets blamed for its failure to work.

Other factors that affect belief in the power of PJ are at work as well. If the PJ is touted as a boon to good health, one might attribute spontaneous improvement to the pendant or headband. Symptoms fluctuate. When there is felt improvement, the PJ gets credit. The down periods are ignored or forgotten (confirmation bias again). Many people who suffer from chronic pain know that the degree of pain often follows cycles where peaks of severe pain are followed by relatively lengthy periods of less pain. People who doubt that a piece of jewelry could have any effect on their arthritis might be willing to give it a try when they at the peak of their pain cycle. Symptoms that regress to the mean would then coincide with the purchase of the PJ, which now gets undeserved credit for a natural phenomenon. Some people, out a strong desire to please, may be overly polite in expressing their satisfaction with a piece of PJ. Others may believe in so many wacky things that they are conditioned to find benefits from nearly anything suggested to them as having benefits or believed by other wacky people to have benefits. Then, of course, there are the outliers, the ones who are neurotic or psychotic, whose disorders may be delusions or psychosomatic. It should go without saying that what has been said here about PJ and health applies equally to placebo medicine such as acupuncture and homeopathy.

Placebo Bands

Recently, PJ made of a large rubber band, sometimes embeddedplacebo band by SkepticBros with a hologram or other pointless affectation, has swept over Infomercial Land and Web Land. The best and most effective of these rubber bands is without a doubt the Placebo Band sold by SkepticBros.

This amazing piece of pointless jewelry is waterproof, comes in several colors, and is embedded with a pointless hologram. Best of all, you can buy one for only $2 (Australian, which today is at parity with the US dollar). The prospective buyer should know, however:

Placebo Band doesn’t come preprogrammed in any way. If you wish to have your band “imbedded with frequencies” we suggest placing the band prominently on top of or in front of the largest speaker you have while playing your absolute favorite song ( e.g.. Groove Is In The Heart by Dee Lite). Not only will you have listened to something that improves your mood straight away but you will be reminded of the song and that good feeling every time you wear Placebo Band.

The good news is that SkepticBros will send you a free replacement if your Placebo Band explodes for any reason.

There are other placebo bands on the market, but they are expensive imitations, e.g., Power Balance, iRenew, or EFX Health Wristband Bracelet Silicone Bands. If you're short of cash and must buy one of these three brand names, I suggest the EFX brand. You can get 50 of them for $150, including shipping and tax. The Power Balance has a line of neoprene wristbands starting at about $30. The iRenew rubber bands sell for about $20. Their commercials claim their product attunes itself to your body's frequencies and gives you more energy, whatever that might mean. Even more vague is the claim that the IRenew bracelet will “promote health and wellness.” Promote? One reviewer (known only as "blogger hired to review Infomercials") was impressed: "More importantly, they seem to give you much improved balance and muscle coordination." They seem to do a lot of things. As does the Power Balance. It seems to rearrange your body's energy in a positive way. That's assumed to be a good thing, if it's a thing at all.

But why pay a lot for something that can do so little when you can pay a little for something that can do a lot more? The Placebo Band is so cheap you can afford several. Richard Saunders of the Australian Skeptics says he wears multiple Placebo Bands as a conversation piece. Strangers are more likely to ask about them if you wear several rather than one. This, he says, gives him opportunities to talk to people about the Placebo Band, the idea behind it, and the lack of any plausible mechanism by which magical jewelry could have any of the effects promised except for the placebo effect. This also seems like a friendly way to promote skepticism and scientific thinking.

why not do a scientific test on these implausible claims?

Those with a good understanding of basic principles in biology, chemistry, and physics will probably scoff at the idea of putting PJ to the test in a randomized double-blind experiment. Why waste your time testing claims that are obviously absurd and false? If people are so stupid as to buy a bracelet to bring them luck, improve their health, keep them from tipping over, or ward off dangerous radiation from their computer monitors, then they deserve to be ripped off. Right? Not really. Believe it or not but belief in magical powers is not a matter of intelligence. We all know that some intelligent people do stupid things sometimes. To avoid being scammed, knowledge is obviously important. Ignorance of basic scientific principles and the power of cognitive illusions have helped dupe many an otherwise educated, knowledgeable person. In any case, there have been several controlled experiments testing the claims of various kinds of PJ. (I've listed a few in the "further reading" section below, including a video of a test of the Power Balance rubber band with hologram.)

The scientific tests are predictably negative and fail to support the claims of the promoters of PJ, yet the tests can provide a valuable positive experience. They can save people from wasting money. Of course, if one finds the PJ beautiful or complementing one's outfit, then one should not hesitate to spend one's money as one sees fit. The tests can also provide a valuable lesson about personal experience. Sometimes we are absolutely certain about something because we've seen it with our own eyes or we've used it and know it works. Seeing a randomized double-blind test of something can open one's eyes to how easy it is to deceive ourselves and believe in causal connections where there are none. Overcoming the bias of personal experience is one of the hardest biases to conquer, however. And some people, even when they see that their claim has failed the test, blame the test rather than give up their belief.

rubber bands can be fun

Finally, for those who just like to wear pointless colorful silicone bands, there is the Healthy Message Silicone Bracelet that proclaims your love of colorful fruits and vegetables, as well as your support for the US Department of Agriculture's food pyramid. They're selling for a whopping $1.50. The downside is they don't cure cancer.

See also applied kinesiology, magical thinking, magnet therapy, Evaluating Personal Experience, and Energy Healing: Looking in All the Wrong Places.

further reading

controlled tests of PJ

ACE Study Reveals Power Balance Bracelet to be Ineffective Shocking, isn't it? "The American Council on Exercise, America’s leading authority on fitness and the largest nonprofit fitness certification, education and training organization in the world, today announced results of an exclusive, peer-reviewed study that found the Power® Balance bracelet did not improve flexibility, balance, strength or power in a series of randomized, double-blind tests."

Are ionized wrist bracelets better than placebo for musculoskeletal pain?

Effect of “Ionized” Wrist Bracelets on Musculoskeletal Pain: A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Trial

Static magnets for reducing pain: systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized trials

A Randomized, Double Blind, Placebo Controlled, Crossover Evaluation of Natural Frequency Technology™ and Sleep Natural Frequency Technology on Sleep in Normal Subjects with Un-refreshing Sleep You, too, can do junk science and get paid for it. These folks tested "the impact of the Natural Frequency Technology (NFT) found in Philip Stein™ Watches (thought to promote overall well-being) and Sleep NFT, (a combination of frequencies designed to promote sleep) on sleep parameters in normal healthy individuals who routinely experience un-refreshing sleep." Now why would anyone test such a thing? Duh.



Scum of the minute

No Difference Between Ionized Bracelet and Placebo for Pain Relief

Proclaim Your Invisible Chronic Illness an example of wearing a colored rubber band to announce that you are suffering from an invisible chronic disease

Why Bogus Therapies Often Seem to Work by Barry L. Beyerstein, Ph.D.


Power Balance Bracelets a Bust in IIG Test by Jim Underdown at Hollywood Reality Check

Do Power Balance wristbands work? by Dominique Dawes

magic jewelry by Brian Dunning at Skeptoid.com

Power Balance by Peter Bowditch at Ratbags

Richard Saunders Vs The Power Balance Bracelet On Today Tonight! by Kylie Sturgess at Podcat Black

Energy Bracelets: Embedding Frequencies in Holograms for Fun and Profit by Harriet Hall at Science Based Medicine

Power Balance, iRenew, and Applied Kinesiology BG Skeptics Society


new Power Balance files for bankruptcy after retracting health claims The company suffered a net loss of more than $9 million in the 10 months ending in October 2011 after earning a $11.7 million profit last year. Power Balance claimed that its bracelets contain hologram technology adopted from Eastern philosophies that improve and enhance people’s lives. Advertisements claimed that the wristbands improved balance, strength, and flexibility--claims for which there is no credible scientific basis.

Power Balance likely to bow out as Sacramento Kings arena sponsor Power Balance's business is scheduled to be auctioned off. Hanyang LLC is in line to buy Power Balance. The majority owner of Hanyang is married to a woman who owns the Hong Kong firm that supplies Power Balance with its wristbands. [/new]

Placebo-ball: the science of baseball's magical necklaces Nice article about superstition and the power of belief in Ars Technica.

Power Balance® products class action lawsuit "Power Balance marketed their products, which include wristbands, pendants and other Mylar Holograms, by purposefully misleading the public and falsely advertising and marketing the products as having, when worn close to the body, physiological benefits including, but not limited to, increased strength, balance and flexibility. In reality, the aforementioned products maintained absolutely no physiological benefits."

When contacted for a response to the suit, PB spokesperson I. M. Wealthy responded by saying that his company only meant those terms to be taken metaphorically, like the Exxon Tiger in the Tank commercials of the 1950s. "Only a real moron or a professional golfer would believe rubber bands can increase strength, power, or balance," said Wealthy. "Advertising courts hold us to a higher standard than that of an imbecile who happens to be 7 feet tall. No reasonable person in his right mind would take our ads literally. Really. I mean, what if we claimed in our ads that our products would take away your speech and balance unless you walked backwards? Would you believe that? I don't think so." :)

Sacramento's Arco Arena to be renamed Power Balance Pavilion after the Maloofs, owners of the Sacramento Kings, signed an agreement with the maker of the placebo rubber band that has exposed the gullibility and entrenched superstition of many professional athletes.

One wag dubbed the arena the Placebo Gazebo.

The deal could carry some public-relations risk for the Kings. Small but fast growing, favored by NBA players and other athletes, Power Balance has been forced to defend its claims that its $29.95 silicone wristbands "work with your body's natural energy field" to enhance strength and athletic ability.

Last month the company, responding to complaints from Australian authorities, posted a statement on its Australian website offering refunds and acknowledging there's no "credible scientific evidence" supporting its claims. But a week ago the company issued a new statement standing by its products.

"Dozens of high profile professional athletes swear by the results they've experienced from wearing our products," the company said. The company has been sued in the past week by at least three consumers, two in Southern California and one in Florida, alleging false advertising.

"The lawsuits seek class-action status. If the controversy endures, it could hurt the Kings," wrote Dale Kasler and Tony Bizjak.

The Kings have been doing poorly lately. If they regress to the mean, i.e., do better, guess what will get the credit?

The Maloofs are gamblers. They own the Palms in Las Vegas, where the rubber bands should sell well among another group of gullible and superstitious people.

What are Power Balance bands? By Finlo Rohrer BBC News Magazine Simon says: "Technology implies science. You look at a Power Balance band and you say 'I don't see the technology, I don't think it's biologically plausible, I don't see research trials, I just see a bit of rubber.'" Right, but apparently a bit of rubber is all that separates some athletes from mediocrity and greatness. Or so they think, if they think.

CNBC's Sports Product Of The Year: Power Balance "...no matter how many skeptics are out there, we here at CNBC evaluate businesses and from a bottom line standpoint, Power Balance deserves the honor of CNBC’s Sports Product Of The Year." So says Darren Rovell, CNBC Sports Business Reporter. Right. And from a critical thinking and ethical standpoint, CNBC Sports Business Report is bullshit.

Power Balance admits no reasonable basis for wristband claims, consumers offered refunds Misleading advertising claims about the alleged benefits of Power Balance wristbands and pendants have been withdrawn by the manufacturer after Australian Competition and Consumer Commission intervention. As a result consumers will be offered a refund if they feel they have been misled and Power Balance has agreed not to supply any more products that are misleadingly labelled. Power Balance Australia Pty Ltd claimed the wristbands improve balance, strength and flexibility and worked positively with the body's natural energy field. It also marketed its products with the slogan "Performance Technology". The ACCC [Australian Competition and Consumer Commission] raised concerns that these claims were likely to mislead consumers into believing that Power Balance products have benefits that they do not have.

Last updated 05-May-2014

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