Susan J. Blackmore and Nicholas Rose
Department of Psychology
University of the West of England
St Matthias College
Bristol BS16 2JP
Paper for presentation at the 23rd International Conference of the Society for Psychical Research
The Bio-Electric Shield is an attractive silver or gold pendant that hangs around the neck on a fine silk cord. Cherie Blair has been photographed wearing one, and the shields have attracted a lot of publicity. Supposed to harness the energy of nature to improve your life, the pendant “contains a composition of a matrix of precision-cut quartz and other crystals designed to balance and strengthen your natural energy field.” The manufacturers claim that wearing the pendant increases muscular strength, reduces fatigue, nausea and stress, and protects the wearer from both electromagnetic radiations (such as those from computers and mobile phones) and from other people’s negative energies. The cheapest shield costs £119 and the most expensive £749.
Some people may dismiss these claims as trivial but we were concerned to test them for the following reason. There are two main possibilities and either way the consequences are important. Either:
(1) The claims are valid, in which case some new physical principle is involved that we should be aware of and test further, or
(2) The claims are false, in which case many people are spending large sums of money and the manufacturers are lying.
We therefore set about testing the claims. After long negotiations with the UK importers and US manufacturers, we were able to acquire a set of twelve shields, six real (containing the correct crystals) and six placebos. They all looked identical and we had no idea which was which. We tried to design a test that would address the major claims under conditions that provided a fair trial. We advertised in the University for staff and postgraduates who fitted the description of those who should benefit from wearing the shields – those who work around computers, are affected by other people’s moods, and who experience low energy and stress. We chose to test muscle strength using a hand dynamometer, and stress using a published and validated questionnaire. Because the manufacturers claim that the shield takes some days to settle down to its new owner, and that benefits can take several weeks to be felt, we tested the shields over roughly eight weeks. Twelve staff or postgraduates at the University of the West of England were given either a real or placebo shield to wear, and were tested at approximately weekly intervals, starting one week before they first put on the shield. Testing continued throughout the period of wearing the shield, and they were tested again after it was removed and returned to the manufacturers.
The shields were individually numbered and all the subjects’ data were coded by letter.
During May this year the UK importer and US manufacturer came to visit our laboratory so that we could give them the data and they could reveal which shield was which. We believe that the double-blind precautions were effective and no one involved could have manipulated the data.
The results were as follows. Wearing a shield (whether ‘real’ or placebo) appeared to reduce tension. The ‘calmness’ factor of the mood scale was significantly affected (t=-2.32, df=11, p=0.04). However, we found that there was no difference in either hand strength or mood between the subjects who had worn real shields and the ones who had worn placebo (Hand dynamometer, t=-0.6, p=1.223; Alertness, t=1.42, p=0.185; Happiness, t=0.85, 0.422; Calmness, t=-0.5, p=0.63.)
The subjects numbers were, necessarily, small. Further tests are planned for large numbers of subjects using a much shorter time scale for testing.