A lot of you really enjoyed my last post explaining why the Danny Gonzalez TikTok song didn’t go viral, so I thought I’d make a new video about his power balance experiment. I know a lot of you are nerds like me who love science and love to learn, so let’s discuss what’s going on with Danny’s power balance band.
Recently, Danny came across a YouTube ad for a wrist band that apparently helps people with their balance and makes them “feel better”. This is nothing new, and snake oil salesmen have been around for ages. As consumers, it’s important that we know how to spot pseudoscientific claims so we don’t waste our money on sham products like these balance bands.
As Danny mentioned in his video, he remembers the original Power Balance bands from high school because all of the athletes were wearing them. Although I’m a little older than Danny Gonzalez, I remember people wearing these bands to improve their game as well. What Danny didn’t mention was that professional athletes were even wearing these things. Shaquille O’Neal wore won, and he said that it “really works” and went on to say, “There were about three of my teammates with the product on and we won that game by 57 points!”
During the height of the power balance craze, celebrities were wearing these bands too. Actors like Gerard Butler, Robert De Niro, and Demi Moore were wearing them. Since then, the realm of social media has exploded, and celebrities are promoting even more pseudoscientific products to us. In the best-case scenario, it’s Gweneth Paltrow promoting her Goop wellness products, but worst case, it’s Instagram influencers promoting flat tummy teas.
Although we’re going to have some fun debunking the bad science around Power Balance bands, it’s crucial that we understand science so we don’t waste hard-earned money on these fraudulent products.
In his video, Danny Gonzalez reads the FAQ from the power balance site. One of the questions asks, “What does it do? Will the wristbands work for everyone?”
In response, Power Balance states the following:
After reading this, Danny laughs and jokes about how this is a genius marketing technique. Although it’s definitely funny how they’ve worded this, and this is a huge red flag to anyone even considering buying one of these, there’s actually a good reason why they have this disclaimer.
Dr. Steven Novella is one of the hosts of The Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe podcast, and he has some great courses on medical myths and alternative medicines. In his audio course The Skeptic’s Guide to Alternative Medicine, Dr. Novella discusses the fraudulent claims made by Power Balance and the parlor tricks they used to sell the bands to people. Eventually, the FTC cracked down on Power Balance, and the company was forced to release the following statement:
“We admit that there is no credible scientific evidence that supports our claims.”
And they also agreed to give refunds to customers who believe they were cheated.
Well, despite his skepticism of the Power Balance band, Danny Gonzalez bought 30 of them and decided to do a little bit of an experiment. Today, we’re going to discuss his experiment, what it tells us about the Power Balance bands, and what a better version of the experiment would look like.
But before we get started, if you’re new to The Rewired Soul, make sure you subscribe and ring that notification bell. Here, we practice critical thinking and use skepticism to better understand what’s going on in the world while also improving our own well-being. And if you’re interested in any of Dr. Steven Novella’s books or audio courses about medical myths and alternative medicines, my affiliate links for them are down in the description below.
The Power Balance Experiment
One of the reasons I love Danny Gonzalez and his friends Kurtis Connor and Drew Gooden is because they have scientific minds. You can tell their inquisitive, and like many of us, they just want to understand how the world works a little better. The world is a crazy place, and even with all of the advances we’ve made in medicine, psychology, and technology, there’s still a lot we don’t know.
So, let’s nerd out for a minute and pretend that Danny Gonzalez really wanted to see if these Power Balance bands worked. The first thing we need to do is develop some type of measurement for what it means for these to “work”. Power Balance makes a lot of bold claims, but for the sake of this experiment and Danny’s video, we’re just going to focus on one: balance.
Danny did a great job in his original video defining a metric for measurement. He wanted to see if the Power Balance band actually improved his balance. In the video, Danny used the time measurement of “Mississippis” to count, but in a real experiment, we’d prefer something a little more accurate like a stopwatch.
In this experiment, the independent variable is the Power Balance band. So, Danny was on the right track by doing two different tests. First, he measured his balance without the Power Balance band, and then he measured his balance with the band on. After doing the experiment a few times, Danny was a little shocked that it seemed like the Power Balance band actually increased the amount of time he could balance.
Not only that, but when he put on all 30 bands, he reached his longest balancing time yet.
So, did the Power Balance band improve Danny’s balance? Well, we’re not sure. After Danny did his experiments, he said that he’s not sure if it actually worked. He questioned whether or not he just naturally improved his balance by practicing balancing.
If you’re trying to be a scientific thinker, this is an excellent question to ask yourself. Some scientists have had to retract their work because they didn’t ask themselves these questions. Sometimes, like the rest of us, scientists fall victim to their own biases. When trying to confirm their belief, they’ll test something until it works. When it doesn’t work, they come up with reasons why it didn’t work, and then when it does work, they stop.
This is bad science. Right now, in the scientific community, there’s a replication crisis, and a lot of it is because of this exact issue.
In our hypothetical scenario, Danny has come to us, told us about his results, and wants to know if he’s proven that the Power Balance band actually works. The first step we’re going to take as good scientists is to try and come up with alternative explanations for how we may have had this result.
The first explanation is what Danny mentioned in his video, which is that it’s possible that by practicing balancing, he would have improved anyway. This is actually an issue pharmaceutical companies run into with antidepressants as well. Did the medication actually work, or would the person just start feeling better due to hedonic adaptation?
The next explanation is the placebo effect. As we discussed earlier, professional athletes like Shaquille O’Neal swore by the Power Balance band. It’s 2020, and we see celebrities talking about the benefits of pseudoscientific remedies like energy healing and essential oils as well. It’s definitely possible that someone might start performing better with the Power Balance band or feel better with energy healing, but this can be the placebo effect at work.
In his book Suggestible You, author Erik Vance takes a deep dive explaining all of the powerful ways the placebo effect works. Using antidepressants as an example once again, many people feel better when taking the medication just because of the placebo effect. In many studies when a person is given a sugar pill rather than the actual medication, they’ll claim that it’s helped their depression.
Personally, my belief is that if you’re willing to risk the possible side effects, but the placebo effect works on you, do your thing. And in the case of the Power Balance band, if it’s making athletes play better like their lucky underwear, that’s great.
But Danny Gonzalez hired us for a job, so we need to figure out if this band actually works or if it’s the placebo effect, so what do we do?
We’d want to start by making two bands that appeared to be the same, but one of them was actually fake. Then, we could run two tests with Danny: one with the real band and one with the fake band. If he balances longer with the real band, it works, right? Not quite.
As scientists, it’s possible that we’re biased. Maybe we really want the Power Balance band to fail, so we unconsciously stop the stopwatch later with the placebo band to prove that the band is fake. Or, what often happens, is that a company like Power Balance has their own testers, and maybe they stop the stopwatch later with the real band to improve the appearance of the band.
Since Danny might succumb to the placebo effect, and we might have an unconscious biased, we need to turn to the gold standard for experiments like this, which is the double-blind study.
The double-blind study means that not only does Danny not know which band he’s getting, neither do we (the experimenters). Although many pharmaceutical companies don’t comply with double-blind study standards, it was created due to the fact that these companies often pay their own researchers to run tests. When you spend billions of dollars creating a medication, or in this case a product, and you’re funding the research, you’re more likely to skew towards positive results.
Now that Danny doesn’t know which band he has, and neither do we, we can re-run the experiment. The next issue we face is that there are all sorts of variables we need to take into consideration. What if Danny didn’t get that good of sleep last night? What if Danny just sucks at balancing? What if he’s better than the average person at balancing? How will we know if it works for other people if we only base it on Danny testing it out?
The key to a great study is having the biggest sample size possible. We don’t have time to get into the nitty-gritty of statistics and data analysis, but we want to try this with as many people as possible. Ideally, we’d get hundreds, or even thousands of people to participate in this experiment so we can start getting some average balancing times. We’d also want to create a 3rd group of people who don’t wear a band at all so we have a control to compare the metrics to.
With a double-blind study and a proper sample size, we’d be able to be much more confident in our conclusion about the Power Balance, but in my opinion, we could save a lot of time and resources by bypassing all of this nonsense. Why? Because the premise of the Power Balance band is pseudoscience. To date, we have no scientific evidence of frequencies or energy having any physical effects on the body aside from the placebo effect.
And that’s why it’s important to understand science. We can save a lot of time and a lot of money by not even messing with some of these products because we know the science doesn’t back it. While the placebo effect is a powerful thing, there are a lot of free placebos out there.
If you need help with your mental health, I highly recommend the service I use, BetterHelp. They’re an affordable online therapy service, and by using this affiliate link, you help support The Rewired Soul