16 January 2011

Placebo power bands

From a report at the BBC about a new trend among celebrities and athletes:
It's a Power Balance bracelet - a silicone band with a hologram. They are an increasingly common sight on the golf course, and away from sport both Robert De Niro and Kate Middleton have been spotted wearing them...

The bracelet's distributors in Australia have just had to apologise and change their marketing and advertising text after the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission took action. The commission said that the local distributors had claimed the bands would "improve balance, strength and flexibility". They also criticised the slogan "Performance Technology". The distributors admitted no credible scientific basis for the claims, the commission said.

On the US website of Power Balance it explains the bands thus: "Power Balance is based on the idea of optimising the body's natural energy flow, similar to concepts behind many Eastern philosophies. The hologram in Power Balance is designed to resonate with and respond to the natural energy field of the body."..

John Porcari, a professor in the department of exercise and sport science at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, recently tested 42 student athletes in an experiment. Balance, flexibility, strength and vertical jump were tested, while the athletes wore either a Power Balance band or a generic rubber band. Both the athletes and the testers did not know which was being worn while the experiment was conducted.

There was no difference between the bands, but there was a marked improvement in tests which were being done by an athlete for the second time. This suggests that once people know what is coming, they prepare themselves and perform better in the test. And that's without even considering the possible placebo effect, the idea that the psychological boost of believing in the bands can improve performance...

"I was really impressed by the marketing. They have managed to get away without deceiving anyone in the sense of an overt lie. There are no claims on the packaging itself. "They don't make any reference at all to any health outcomes. They leave that as an inference that most people will draw."

Even the £30 cost may help with the psychological effect of a band. "There is some evidence to show that the more expensive a placebo is, the more of a placebo effect it has."
I don't believe the cricketers and golfers and celebrities believe in the power of the band. They are well paid to wear it, just like the logos on their clothes.


  1. Thankfully Powerbalance has now been forced to admit their products have no basis in science.
    The Australian Skeptics have even released a competing product, "Placebo Band". It's much cheaper though, so I guess it doesn't work as well?

  2. Correction to EvilHayama: The Placebo Band was released by Skepticbros, not Australian Skeptics, though the latter have helped to promote it.

  3. Im sure some of them believe it. Athletes do some really funny things that supposedly enhance their performance even if they know it doesn't help, all rituals basically.


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