Visit Your Local PBS Station PBS Home PBS Home Programs A-Z TV Schedules Watch Video Donate Shop PBS Search PBS
SAF Archives  search ask the scientists in the classroom cool science
scientists from previous shows
cool careers in science
ask the scientists

Photo of Emily Rosa Healing Touch -- Emily Rosa

At 10 years old, Emily Rosa may be one of the youngest people to submit a paper for publication in a scientific journal. After repeating her experiment to investigate Therapeutic Touch, Emily answered questions from the Frontiers audience.

Q Dear Emily, I am very impressed with your science project, because when I was in 6th grade (currently 9th) my science project was nothing as marvelous as yours. To the subject: I am very curious how you became interested in this subject. Sincerely, Tracie.

Dear Tracie, I became interested in testing Therapeutic Touch because I really didn't know if nurses who do Therapeutic Touch were telling the truth about their ability to feel the "human energy field." One day, my mother, who is a nurse, was watching a video on nurses who practice Therapeutic Touch, and I wanted to find out for myself if they could really do it. The Scientific American Frontiers show said that I had gotten the idea from my parents. This is not true. I thought of the idea myself. At the time, I also needed to think of an experiment for my science fair at school, and this was it. Thank you for your question. Emily

Q Our class would like to know what your favorite science subject is and if you plan to be a scientist when you grow up.

Dear Class, Hmmm, I think I want to be a scientist when I grow up, unless I find something else better to do. I liked doing my experiment on Therapeutic Touch. It would be fun doing scientific experiments and getting paid for it. My favorite field of science is chemistry. I love explosions and things happening that aren't supposed to. I also like hearing about pseudoscience. There are lots of pseudosciences that aren't tested, because maybe real scientists don't have the time. Kids could test them when they are practicing how to do science in school and make a big contribution. Everybody would be interested in their results. I hope this answers your question. Emily

QGreat work Emily! Did your research get published yet? If so we would like to know where so we can read more about it. Thanks.

No, my research hasn't been published yet. It has gone through three rounds of peer review at one journal and may be accepted there. If this journal doesn't publish it, another wants to. Scientific American Frontiers will tell you where to find it when it does get printed. Thank you for compliment. Emily

QThe people we saw on the show practicing TT seem to really believe in what they're doing and can describe physical sensations pretty clearly. Do you really think that these people might have certain "powers"? or are they all just faking it?

I think that they were probably sincere about being able to feel something, but my experiment did not show evidence that the "human energy field" exists. When I was doing my test, I got the feeling that they were having a hard time feeling anything when they couldn't see my hand and were just guessing. To really know if they can feel something there, I need other people to repeat my experiment. If the results of their test come out the same, we will know that there is no such thing as a human energy field and these people are imagining or pretending. In Pennsylvania, there is a girl, 9-years-old, who is going to replicate my test. I do not believe that these people are feeling something. After you pretend for a while, you starting believing there is something there. Nurses are told by their instructors that there is good research (not so) for Therapeutic Touch, and they want to help their patients, so they want to believe TT is real. Dolores Krieger, the founder of TT, was in Denver recently, and I asked her for ten minutes of her time to take my test. She was a big "scaredy-nurse" and sent me a message that she didn't have time. Thank you for your question, Emily

QDo you plan to follow up on your studies of Healing Touch with any more tests or research?

Yes. I'm going to send a small letter to famous TT practitioners to ask them to take my test. I am also going to think of a test for something Scientologists think is true -- that all people have thousands of aliens in them. If they can tell me how they know this, then maybe I will have something to test. I also think it might be fun to test phony psychics.

QHas anyone else done studies on Therapeutic Touch, or just you so far?

Just me so far in testing the main aspect of TT -- about if there's a "human energy field," or can TT practitioners really feel something there. But there have been other people who have done small studies on other aspects of TT -- to see if TT heals wounds, helps for relaxation and pain. I really appreciate the people for making the studies, but I don't think they are that good.

QThrough meeting and talking to people who practice TT, did you get any insights into why so many people believe that therapeutic touch can heal them or that it really works?

I think that people can be pretty gullible sometimes. They might believe it because it might help relax them, and when you feel relaxed you always feel better. Or it could be by coincidence that sometimes people get better on their own and think it's because of TT. My mother says a lot of people don't think scientifically.

QWhat did you think about therapeutic touch before you conducted this experiment, compared to what you think about it now? I am curious how the experiment changed your opinions.

Before I didn't know what to think, but now, after my test, I think that it should not be practiced for money until it's tested thoroughly. If somebody replicated my test -- which would be good -- if they got the same results, then I would feel even more certain about there being no human energy field. Sometimes the nurses would tell me that the memory of my hand over one of their hands was so hot that they weren't sure where my hand was then, so they said they were just going to take an educated guess.

QWhat was the percent of the accurate and inaccurate responses in your experiment?

On Scientific American Frontiers, I said that the average of correct answers was 4.1 out of 10 tries for each subject. Those were the results for that day. When I tested the Therapeutic Touch practitioners for my 4th grade experiment, I got an average of 4.7 correct answers. If you put these two groups together -- 28 trials total -- the average number of accurate responses was 4.5 out of 10 tries, or 45% correct answers.

Q Do you think that the people who participated in your experiment were just guessing?

Yes, I think they were guessing, because my test had evidence that there isn't a "human energy field," but you shouldn't take just my word for it (or any one researcher's evidence). I hope other people replicate my test to see if they find the same thing I found. You can't read peoples' minds. That's why I did this test.

Q When you put your hands under the healers' hands, did you feel a "pull," or energy or other sensations coming from the other person?

No, absolutely not. I never have felt anything like what they say they do with the "human energy field." (Just body heat if I get really close.) That's why I got the idea for this test. I was so curious that they felt something I didn't. They say that anyone can feel the field, so why don't people feel it all the time when they bump into each other? I think they are imagining things.

QThe Instant Poll question on this Frontiers website asks whether therapeutic touch should be used in hospitals since its healing benefits haven't been proven. How would you vote on this question -- yes or no?

No. Maybe it could cost lots of money, and people could be wasting their money if it hasn't been proven yet. If it hasn't been proven, then people who are dying from things like cancer would waste their time on Therapeutic Touch instead of things that have been proven to help. Also, it could get more people believing in something that isn't there or true, just because their nurses believe it. Maybe if they believe in this weird stuff, they'll believe in other weird stuff.


Scientific American Frontiers
Fall 1990 to Spring 2000
Sponsored by GTE Corporation,
now a part of Verizon Communications Inc.