1: Grades 5-8
A Biased View
who use Therapeutic Touch (TT) say that it works by
smoothing out the invisible "energy field" that surrounds
every person. By working out the "kinks" within this
field and redirecting its energy, practitioners believe
they can facilitate healing. Critics argue that there
is no data to support the success of this practice and
that it is another form of pseudo-science masquerading
as a legitimate treatment.
TT skeptics believe that much of the reported success
of Therapeutic Touch can be attributed to something
called the "placebo effect." A placebo is an inactive
substance or ineffective therapeutic practice that a
subject firmly believes to have active properties. For
example, an individual may find some measure of relief
from a placebo purely because of his or her belief in
its power. While the placebo effect arises from an individual's
expectations and beliefs, it is thought that its mechanism
of therapeutic action may lie somewhere in the body's
natural system of self-healing.
placebo effect often complicates the objective evaluation
of new drugs or medical procedures by introducing biases
into the results. In this activity, you'll get the chance
to observe how belief and expectation can impact an
experiment. As you'll discover, the activity will require
both unsuspecting subjects and a bit of deceit.
activity page will offer:
Insight into placebos.
activity that involves belief and bias in experiments.
arena to apply critical thinking to Therapeutic Touch.
and unused blindfold
Identify several individuals who will be the subjects of
your deception. Family members and friends (but not classmates)
make great subjects.
aside ten minutes to work with each subject. Explain that
you are about to repeat a test that you observed on the
show SAF. You might want to tell them a little bit about
the series to add credibility to your actions.
that you are going to test their ability to "feel" the presence
of a hand that is positioned several inches above their
own outstretched and upturned palms.
where the hoax comes in. Explain that scientists have confirmed
that people can detect "energy fields". Tell them it is
now an accepted sixth sense that you have learned about
in a segment of SAF. Although it is not as strong as the
other five senses, field detection can be used to uncover
an invisible aura that surrounds all animals.
them to keep their eyes open. Flip a coin. Based on the
outcome of the toss (heads = right, tails = left), position
your hand above one of their upturned palms.
"Can you detect any energy field associated with my hand?"
Record their response in a journal. Ask them to describe
the feeling and record this response as well.
the coin again. Based on the toss outcome, position your
hand over the appropriate upturned palm either of their
upturned palms. Record their ability to detect the presence
of the your hand.
the test fifteen times. Record the results in a data table.
Did they demonstrate an ability to detect these fields?
the subject. Repeat these tests by tossing the coin and
placing your hand over the subject's, without revealing
which hand has been chosen. Record the results.
several other subjects, then compare your results.
was the bias produced in this activity?
your subjects demonstrate a bias? If so, how?
was it important to keep your hand at least several inches
above the subject's hand?
was a blindfold used in the second part of this activity?
your subject's ability to "detect" the energy field change
when blindfolded? In what way?
Public Be Aware
there any dangers associated with the practice of Therapeutic
Touch? If so, what might they be? Are there benefits to using
it? If so, what are they? Compare and contrast a belief in
TT to a belief in expectations associated with prayer. How
are they different? How are they the same?
Have you ever seen print articles or television commercials
about the healing and pain-reducing properties of magnets?
These claims are not new. Since magnets were first discovered,
they have attracted much attention from those seeking paranormal
properties. What have you heard about magnets and healing?
Compose a paragraph that describes all you currently know
about magnetic therapy. Then check out the following Web page
maintained by the Committee for the Scientific Investigation
of Claims of the Paranormal - http://www.csicop.org/si/9807/magnet.html.
Based on the information presented in this article and information
mined from other Web and print resources, write a five minute
radio program that presents an unbiased view of magnetic therapy.
Healers - Professional Associates International http://www.therapeutic-touch.org/default.asp
The official Web site for Therapeutic Touch.
Information Sources http://www.quackwatch.com/05Links/skepticsites.html
This site offers links to various agencies that provide accurate
and practical information concerning a wide range of paranormal
An introduction to control group study, double-blind and random
activities in this guide were contributed by Michael DiSpezio,
a Massachusetts-based science writer and author of "Critical
Thinking Puzzles" and "Awesome Experiments in Light & Sound"
(Sterling Publishing Co., NY).
Academic Advisors for this Guide:
Corrine Lowen, Science Department, Wayland Public Schools,
Suzanne Panico, Science Teacher Mentor, Cambridge Public Schools,
Anne E. Jones, Science Department, Wayland Middle School,