By Keir Liddle
It seems that Skeptics in The Pub: Wales has been founded just in the nick of time, as they may have to try and tackle the invasion of woo into that most Welsh of sporting passtimes: rugby. It seems the Cardiff Blues have side-stepped reason and been converted to woo by sporting “energy bracelets“.
So how are these “energy bracelets” supposed to work?
Power Balance holograms are embedded with
frequencies that react positively with your body’s natural energy field to improve balance, strength and flexibility. When the hologram comes into contact with your body’s energy field, the body interacts with the natural frequency stored within the hologram. The result is increased positive energy flow through the body.
This is such unmitigated nonsense that it’s hard to know where to start with a debunk. As Wolfgang Pauli might put it: “it’s not right, it’s not even wrong!”. Suffice to say that the “body’s natural energy field” (whatever that is) is not responsible for “balance, strength and flexibility”. And even if such a thing existed (perhaps we could contrive some definition based on an electromagnetic field generated by the electrical activity of the nervous system) it categorically could not be affected by “natural frequencies stored within a hologram”. This is mumbo-jumbo of almost beautiful purity.
If you’re interested you can see F1 Driver Rubens Barrichello talking about his “experiences” with Power Balance in this Youtube video.
The term “ideomotor action” was coined by William B. Carpenter in 1852.
Carpenter argued that muscular movement can be initiated by the mind independently of volition or emotions. We may not be aware of it, but suggestions can be made to the mind by others or by observations. Those suggestions can influence the mind and affect motor behavior.
This seems to be what is occurring in the supposed “tests” we see in the video. The skeptic’s dictionary entry on the topic goes on to mention the work of American psychologist Ray Hyman, who demonstrated that many phenomena attributed to spiritual or paranormal forces, or to mysterious energies, are actually due to ideomotor action. Furthermore, these tests demonstrate that “honest, intelligent people can unconsciously engage in muscular activity that is consistent with their expectation. They also show that suggestions that can guide behavior can be given by subtle clues.”
People might not generally associate sport with woo, but in sport, superstition and ritual can become rife.
The night before he plays a game, basketball player for the Dallas Mavericks Jason Terry sleeps in the shorts of his opponent the next day. He has somehow procured shorts from every other team in the league and will wear them to bed.
Curtis Martin, running back for the New York Jets in the US National Football League, reads Psalm 91 before each game.
Wade Boggs, formerly third baseman for the Boston Red Sox, had a similar array of rituals, including eating chicken before each game, and writing the Hebrew word Chai, meaning “living”, in the dirt before each bat.
South African cricketer Neil McKenzie would tape his bat to the ceiling and insist all toilet seats in the dressing room were down before going out to bat (he later reported having recovered from OCD).
World tennis number one Rafael Nadal must have his water bottles lined up, with the labels facing the baseline he is playing from.
Many, many more sporting superstars also have similar superstitions – wearing certain important clothing or using certain bats/boots/etc or performing set rituals before a match. Why is superstition so rife in sport? Is there anything specific about sport or sports people that makes them more prone to supersitition, ritual and woo?
According to Dr. Richard Lustberg, Ph.D. the superstition creates a confidence inside the player or coach. Lustberg has two degrees in psychology and has studied the routine superstition of athletes:
“Athletes begin to believe, and want to believe, that their particular routine is enhancing their performance”
This seems to be a way for sporty types to give an illusion of control – which is something we all do to an extent. How many of us keep prodding the lift call button or prod incessantly at the traffic light button, or flash our headlights at temporary traffic lights? Thus it probably serves as a means to lower the stress of a big game or a key tie, as a way of distracting folks from the varying degrees of uncertainty that can assail players in the unpredictable world of sport.
The energy bracelets are still utter nonsense, though.