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Featured ExperimentMyth Busted

MythBusters - Hypothesis Testing

With all the information out there about alternative products changinghuman physiological responses to stress, it would be interesting to beable to test these products and determine what all that“hype” is actually about.

Aromatherapy, salt lamps, negative ionizers, and magnetic bracelets aresome examples of products on the market that are sold to consumers withthe caveat that they will reduce overall stress, make you calmer, andbalance out your adrenal reactions to situations that invoke tensionand anxiety.

Aromatherapy is believed to stimulate smell receptors in the nose,which then send messages through the nervous system and to the part ofthe brain the that controls emotions.  But when it comes tobreathing in or rubbing on aromatic plant oils, the fact that theexperience is pleasing doesn’t make it therapeutic, says Dr.Edzard Ernst, former Chair of Complementary Medicine at the Universityof Exeter in the U.K. Ernst has published two review that closelyexamine the health effects of aromatherapy. When it comes to calminghypertension, depression, anxiety, pain and symptoms of dementia, Ernstfound no “convincing” evidence that aromatherapydoes you any good.

Negative ions are odorless, tasteless, and invisible molecules that weinhale in abundance in certain environments such as mountains,waterfalls, and beaches. Once they reach our bloodstream, negative ionsare believed to produce biochemical reactions that increase levels ofthe mood chemical serotonin, helping to alleviate depression, relievestress, and boost our daytime energy.  Negative ions increasethe flow of oxygen to the brain; resulting in higher alertness,decreased drowsiness, and more mental energy," says Pierce J. Howard,PhD, author of The Owner’s Manual for the Brain: EverydayApplications from Mind Brain Research and director of research at theCenter for Applied Cognitive Sciences in Charlotte, N.C.  BothHimalayan Salt Lamps and commercial Negative Ionizers produce thesetypes of particles.

Magnetic bracelets are tools used in “magnettherapy”, which is a type of alternative medicine that usesmagnetic fields to improve a person's overall health. While it hasn'tbeen proven whether magnet therapy works, many wearers of magneticbracelets have seen positive results in pain relief and overall healthbenefits. Magnetic bracelets are advertised to improve circulation,reduce inflammation, reduce stress, increase positive thinking, and“they look fashionable” to boot. 

For this study, students can create a hypothesis and design anexperiment around one of these types of alternativetherapies.  Recordings of heart rate, GSR, EEG, ECG, and/orother parameters can show whether or not these devices work to reduceoverall stress.  Studies can be either short- or long- term,and a simple t-test can determine statistical validity.
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