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The news

Scientists may have shattered one of the fundamental beliefs of the New Age movement: that dangling a crystal around the neck raises personal energy levels and uplifts the spirit.

New Age nonsense?

A study has shown that the sensations reported by believers in crystals – such as tingling, warmth and feelings of well-being – come instead from the power of suggestion. When given cheap, fake crystals, people reported exactly the same mysterious sensations as when they handle the genuine articles.

The claims

Crystals, it is claimed, can alleviate stress, boost creativity, cure disease, raise levels of consciousness and enhance psychic powers in areas such as divination and dowsing. The belief that quartz and semi-precious stones contain a subtle power unknown to science is a key part of the New Age industry.

Proponents claim that these effects are currently outside the testable boundaries of science, and stem from magical auras, vibrations, and frequencies.

Different crystals are also thought to posses different levels of energy, and produce different effects.

The study

Dr. Christopher French, a psychologist at Goldsmith’s College, London, set out to test the effects of crystals on 80 volunteers. Half were given a genuine New Age crystal for a few minutes while meditating. The rest were asked to handle a cheap plastic fake, but were told that it was the genuine article [control and blinding]. The volunteers were also primed to notice any claimed effects from the crystals, with the researchers telling them that they should experience any number of benefits [the suggestion].

These included tingling, more focused attention, balanced emotions, a rise in hand temperature, increased energy levels, improved sense of well-being, relaxation of the forehead, stimulation of the brain, increased swallowing reflex and “activation of all levels of consciousness.” Only six out of the 80 failed to experience at least one of these sensations.

The most common sensations reported were a warmer hand and increased concentration, which could easily be explained by much more plausible means, such as increased blood flow to the hand due to squeezing or increased concentration due to meditation techniques.

More importantly, Dr. French found no difference in the sensations reported by those holding a real quartz crystal and those given a fake. Believers in crystals were also twice as likely to report a sensation than self-professed skeptics.

Dr. French also looked at how susceptible the volunteers were to suggestion and hypnotism. He found that believers were far more susceptible to suggestions than the skeptics. He says:

The fact that the same effects were found with both genuine and fake crystals undermines any claims that crystals have the mysterious powers which they are claimed to have [emphasis mine].

The power of suggestion, either explicit or implicit, seems to be the not-so-mysterious power that may convince many that crystals have the potential to work miracles. The data presented are consistent with the idea that believers in the paranormal are more susceptible to this power.

What The Science Says

The New Age community is steeped in pseudoscience like this. Combining scientific-sounding words with ancient “spiritual practices,” the New Age mindset has found a home with billions of people. While I do think that it is natural to attribute supernatural powers to things due to either our pattern-seeking brains or wishful thinking, the beauty of science is that we do not have to simply wonder if crystals can have some effect, we can test it.

The smoking gun here is that people reported the same effects from the crystals regardless of if they were fakes or not. If a fake (placebo) produces the exact same effect as the “real” effect that you are trying to test, then the effect is not from the component being studied. This is also what we see with “spiritual and ancient” practices like acupuncture. It does not work beyond placebo, that is to say that fake acupuncture works just as well, and therefore acupuncture does not work. Like acupuncture and crystal healing, it is not what proponents claim to be working that is having an effect, it is something else (placebo effect, psychological priming, etc.).

Certainly there are better uses of time

The other important part of this study is that people had to be primed in order to see any effects from the crystals. Psychological priming is where you tell someone, prior to an activity, to have a certain mindset or anticipate a certain outcome. In this study, those who believed that something was going to happen were much more likely to report that something happened. When we compare this to the fact that skeptics were far less swayed by this priming, and that people could not tell the difference between real and fake crystals, the conclusion we come to is that the expectation of effect, and not the crystals themselves, were the source of any reported effects.

Our mind is very good at creating effects that are not there. If you can unknowingly take a sugar pill and feel subjective pain relief akin to Tylenol or Asprin, then it shouldn’t surprise you that it is perfectly rational to see any supposed effects from crystals as little more than placebo via wishful thinking.

If these crystals had any effects that went beyond placebo and priming, for instance if they emanated microwaves that raised the temperature of your hand, then there would be some scientific merit behind the claim that they do something. Furthermore, if the use of crystals produced effects that went beyond placebo, more study would perhaps be warranted, but they do not.

But if every effect that the New Agers believe can be replicated by a fake crystal, then it is pseudoscience to say that crystals can do anything at all that a sugar pill or some trickery could not.

True Pseudoscience

As I said above, there is little more to crystal healing than wishful thinking and the placebo effect, but of course that doesn’t stop New Agers from trying to make money.

Make note that absolutely zero of these claims are founded on science, research, or medical testing. Crystals are expected to treat or help treat:

Basically, they have something to sell you no matter what you got. It really is disgusting, and morally reprehensible, that these people claim that their rocks can cure your cancer with no proof, testing, efficacy, mechanism, or plausibility. They are keeping people from going to real doctors by pushing this “natural” nonsense, and have the nerve to say that a rock can help treat AIDS. Charlatans.

Why would a site make such claims? Because the authors: have no idea how the body works, no idea how medicine works, just want to sell you something, are delusional, have the scientific literacy of a 5-year old, I could go on…

I wanted to bring this kind of site to your attention to show you the kind of pseudoscience that is out there. There are millions of sites that are ready to cash in on gullibility, and you have to remain skeptical. Thankfully, with the application of real science, we can see that the claims made by New Age proponents about crystal healing are complete bogus. When it comes to crystal healing, it is all in your head.