Stress levels are always running high around exam term. It is almost inevitable that products will arise to capitalise on this by promising new and seemingly magical relaxation methods. One such product is Totem Confidence, which claims to use “well established techniques” to boost confidence and banish stress.
The product consists of a small ‘totem’ (resembling a keyring) and a CD. You listen to the CD whilst holding the totem in order to relax and “empower the totem with positive thoughts and deep resources within you”. With your newly-charged totem (the charge’s lifespan is not mentioned) you have a constant source of positive energy with you. The company suggests that you keep your totem close during times of stress, taking it to your big exam or driving test.
This method is most likely to be based around standard relaxation meditation practices. Meditation can instil a more positive outlook, and there are studies showing that meditation induces patterns of brain activity commonly linked to positive attitudes. Mindfulness meditation has been used to treat patients with clinical anxiety, and has shown medically significant results.
In meditation, you build up a sense of wellbeing and calm within yourself. However, the developers of Totem Confidence suggest that you channel any effect into your Totem. Rather than giving yourself confidence, this technique wraps positivity up with the physical presence of a small piece of metal; instead of becoming more confident yourself, you become more reliant on your Totem.
The marketing material depends upon several subjective testimonials from individuals, which completely ignore the two most prominently advertised benefits (weight loss and quitting smoking). For exams, the product claims to lead to “a reduction in anxiety from 7 down to 3.” The scale used to produce these numbers is never mentioned. The most widely-used medical scale is the Hamilton Anxiety Scale but it gives scores from 1 to 5. Other tests include the Zung Self-Rating Anxiety Scale (from 20 to 80), the Liebowitz Social Anxiety Scale Test (which goes all the way to 100) and the Beck Anxiety Inventory (which only has two results: anxious or non-anxious). Without any parameters, or any indication of what a ‘normal’ score should be, the Totem Confidence anxiety scale is meaningless.
Although mindfulness meditation may have positive effects, there is no additional evidence supporting Totem Confidence, and the inclusion of the totem good-luck charm appears to undermine the reliance on the self that meditation promotes. With no real evidence that it performs any better than breathing exercises and a 50p keyring it’s probably not worth splashing out £14.97 for.
Also I can’t help but feeling that accidently losing the totem on the day of your big exam might just be worse for your general confidence than not buying it in the first place.
The Not-Sci blog is written by people from BlueSci, Cambridge University’s leading science magazine. The aim is to address some of the pseudoscientific ideas that plague modern society. Communicating good science accurately is hard to do, but it is becoming increasingly vital in the modern world, from government policy-making to what you eat for breakfast. We hope to show you how to weed out the good science from what is not science.
This week’s article was written by Shuna Gould.
Ed: At the request of the manufacturers of the Totem Confidence product, BlueSci would like to highlight that this article is an expression of the author’s own opinions and the product of her online investigations. At the time of writing the author had no personal experience of the Totem Confidence product and intended her article as a pragmatic review of the scientific evidence underlying the product, with no intent to harm the retail value or sales of Totem Confidence. Further to this article, BlueSci has been offered the chance to trial the Totem Confidence product and will provide a first hand review of its effects in the near future.