HeartMath Considered Incoherent

[Note: all opinions expressed here are my own. Nothing to be taken as medical advice.]

A group called the Institute of HeartMath has been remarkably persistent at making their way into my hospital. A couple of months ago I had to go to a lecture where they trained us all in their “scientifically” “validated” “heart” “coherence” “technique”. And yesterday I had to attend a class where one of my attendings (who is otherwise an amazing psychiatrist and teacher whom I have a huge amount of respect for) pushed the same technique and their biofeedback device.

And it looks like I’m not the only one. It looks like the US Navy is also “getting the coherence advantage” and that there’s an entire site dedicated to HeartMath for veterans and the military urging them to “apply for scholarships”. There are HeartMath training programs for teachers and managers ($3500 for a four-day workshop), for police, firemen, and first responders ($3699 for a four day workshop) and for doctors and clinicians ($1495 for an “interactive webinar”). There are HeartMath programs aimed at classrooms, including Early Heart Smarts Pre-K training ($179) and HeartMath Test Prep, $49 and apparently funded by a grant from the Department of Education. In case your classroom can’t afford these products, the Institute of HeartMath offers help filling out grant applications.

If any of these offers are actually being taken, this HeartMath stuff is big business. So in the process of writing up a letter to my boss explaining why I don’t want them back in my hospital a third time, I figured I’d make what I found public on the Internet for the benefit of anyone else looking into them.

Because their field of interest is heart electrophysiology, something I know almost nothing about, I’m not going to be able to do a good job debunking specific claims or responding to the science. Instead I want to make a few very general points about the science and then move into a discussion of the GIANT RED FLAGS the Institute throws up.


According to a pamphlet I was given, HeartMath claims:

Create a coherent state in about a minute with the simple, but powerful steps of the Quick Coherence Technique. Using the power of your heart to balance thoughts and emotions, you can achieve energy, mental clarity, and feel better fast anywhere…Find a feeling of ease and inner harmony that’s reflected in more balanced heart rhythms, facilitating brain function and more access to higher intelligence.

The Quick Coherence Technique is a relaxation/focusing exercise where you concentrate on your heart area, breathe deeply while imagining the breath coming through your heart, and imagine a happy situation. According to HeartMath, this causes your heart rhythm to enter a state called “coherence”, which looks like a sine wave on graphs of heart rate variability and which can be detected by cheap and simple monitoring devices.

They say that the heart has so many interconnected neurons that it is like a “second brain”, and probably involved in various forms of advanced emotional processing. Further, “the heart sends more information to the brain than the brain sends to the heart”, so getting the heart into a coherent rhythm can sync brain waves into a coherent rhythm and improve emotional states. They present lots of research showing their Coherence Technique does in fact change heart rate variability, brain waves, and performance on various tasks that require calm concentration.

Further, they say that “the heart has a magnetic field a thousand times stronger than that of the brain, the strongest of any organ in the body”. It can be detected up to several meters away, and its character changes with emotional state and with whether your heart is in “coherence” or not. They present links to a lot of research showing that subtle changes in the magnetic field of the heart can be measured even outside the body. Then they say that people can communicate emotional states with other people nearby through the effect of their hearts’ magnetic fields.

Therefore, if you get your heart in coherence with their meditative technique, you not only put your brain waves more in sync and eliminate your own stress, but you have a knock-on effect helping everyone around you.

This is a mixture of good science, mediocre science taken out of context, and total bunk.

Heart rate does have variability, and heart rate variability is an interesting proxy for your body’s general level of health and stress. You can find a good summary from an electrophysiological perspective here, and from more of a neurobiological perspective here. Most likely what happens is that when you’re calm, your heart gets more parasympathetic innervation which causes more variability, and when you’re stressed it gets more sympathetic innervation and less variability.

The heart does feed information to the brain. Then again, so does everything else. Your feet feed information to the brain – that’s why if someone hits your feet, you can feel it. I don’t know whether “the feet send more information to the brain than the brain sends to the feet” but it wouldn’t surprise me if they did – they have to communicate temperature, pain, position, touch, itchiness, et cetera, and all the brain does is occasionally tell them to move somewhere. This does not mean the feet are metaphysically prior to the brain in some important way, or that they control the brain. It just means that the brain is at some level aware of what is going on with the feet. So too with the heart. We know the brain has some level of monitoring of heart function – this is why people who have heart attacks have various unpleasant feelings, including chest pain and a so-called “sense of impending doom”. This doesn’t imply very much about the heart controlling brain function.

The heart does have a complex interconnected nervous system of its own. But HeartMath’s descriptions of it – which go from claims that “The heart’s extensive intrinsic neurvous system is sufficiently sophisticated to qualify as a ‘heart brain’ in its own right” to the insane question The Heart Has A Little Brain – Which Is Really In Control? – are overblown. HeartMath says the heart has 40,000 neurons (other sources say more like 14,000). Okay. The brain has 86 billion. Which is really in control – the organ with 14,000 neurons or the one with 86,000,000,000? Yeah, it’s the second one. Also of note: the gut has 100 million neurons. For those of you counting, that’s seven thousand times more than the heart. Maybe “The Institute of BowelMath” didn’t sound sexy enough? Neurons are useful structures that manage electrical conductivity and ability to react to external conditions; they don’t always mean an organ has some kind of complicated emotional intelligence.

The heart does produce a magnetic field over a thousand times stronger than that of the brain. Here are other totally meaningless heart-brain comparisons: the heart is over a zillion times redder than the brain is! The heart is involved in 600000% more angsty teenage love poetry! Anything with electrical activity is going to produce a magnetic field, but that doesn’t mean the magnetic field is of any deeper significance, or that “size of magnetic field produced” is a good proxy for “cognitive significance”. In fact, we find that the magnetic field of the heart as measured at the surface of the body is ten million times weaker than the Earth’s magnetic field at the surface of the Earth. HeartMath says that subtle changes in the heart’s magnetic field can be measured outside the body, and this is true, but what they fail to mention is that this measurement was done at a super-high-tech laboratory in Berlin called the “most magnetically quiet room on earth” where building-sized magnetic shields sheltered the experimental apparatus from the Earth’s magnetism, which otherwise would have totally overwhelmed the effect the same way as hunting for a firefly on the surface of the Sun. Outside of a special magnetically shielded room in Berlin, your heart’s magnetic field isn’t going around influencing everything around you, let alone interacting with somebody else’s heart.

HeartMath does studies and finds that if I am holding your hand, your brain waves sync up to my heartbeat, and vice versa – and that indeed, this can happen even if we are nearby but not touching. Evidence for magnetic transfer effects? Before we say yes, I want to make three points about this study.

Number one, it is not in a peer reviewed journal. It’s published in a book called “Brain And Values: Is A Biological Science Of Values Possible?”, the editor of which is one of HeartMath’s “scientific advisors”.

Number two, it does not use p-values, Bayesian posteriors, or any other kind of statistic that involves numbers. It shows us pictures of wave patterns and points out that they look alike. I admit that they do look alike, but I know nothing about waves and for all I know it’s really easy to make different waves look alike.

Number three, EEG artifacts are a thing. That is, if any movement is going on near an EEG, it moves the electrodes and they record a noisy signal. Thus, you usually take an EEG with an EKG so you can see the patient’s heart rhythm and adjust it out, since otherwise the brain waves will appear to fluctuate with the heartbeat simply because the heartbeat shakes the electrodes. Manuals for EEG use have warnings about, for example, not letting anyone else sit on the patient’s bed during recording, or watching the patient’s intravenous lines because even the drip-drip-drip of the IVs can show up as perturbations. If I am holding your hand while you’re getting an EEG, perhaps my EEG reflects your heart rhythm not because your heart is affecting my brain waves, but because your heartbeat is indeed shaking me a tiny bit which shakes the electrodes which produces EEG artifact. This possibility seems to fit with HeartMath’s observation that when the heart-beat subject was wearing a thin glove on the hand with which she touched the brain-wave subject, the effect was decreased by a factor of ten. I admit this doesn’t explain the supposed sync between heartbeat and brain wave when the two subjects were standing a foot and a half apart without touching. But as we will soon see, HeartMath is so good at finding non-local effects that we have some reason to doubt their data-gathering process here.

Here’s what I think is going on as a fully general explanation of almost all of HeartMath’s research. Their Quick Coherence technique – and various others like it – are basically mishmashes of useful relaxation exercises stolen from various yogas and forms of meditation. Many of these ask you to focus on the heart – although many others ask you to focus on the tailbone, or genitalia, or third eye, or crown chakra – and all of them probably work in some vague way by redirecting your attention onto the body. I have no doubt that these yoga techniques effectively relax you. That changes your balance of parasympathetic versus sympathetic tone, which in turn affects your heart rate variability – which as we saw before, tracks parasympathetic and sympathetic tone. Since you’re more relaxed, you do better at various cognitive tasks, which HeartMath then records and claims is evidence of an effect from heart “coherence”. This explains about 80% of the Institute’s findings. There are definitely some findings that can’t be explained by this, but then, as we will very shortly see, there are some findings that can’t be explained by anything except Alien Space Bats.


I would now like to move from a sober critique of HeartMath’s theories to an unfair character assassination of their staff.

Although HeartMath employs a bunch of people, the obvious two head honchos are founder Doc Childre (the CEO and President is listed as Sara Childre, who I assume is his wife), and Dr. Rollin McCraty, the executive vice-president and director of research, who is responsible for the lion’s share of the Institute’s research output and scientific claims.

Doc Childre has no medical training or relevant educational credentials. In fact, he is not a doctor at all. “Doc” is just his first name. This completes my character assassination of him.

Rollin McCraty is a doctor, but not a medical doctor. He has a Ph. D in “Health Sciences”, but all of his training and expertise is in electrical engineering and he has had no formal instruction in biology. His biography makes him sound very impressive:

McCraty is a Fellow of the American Institute of Stress, holds memberships with the International Neurocardiology Network, American Autonomic Society, Pavlovian Society and Association for Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback

The Institute of Stress has a list of all its fellows online, McCraty is not mentioned.

The International Neurocardiology Network has no webpage or online evidence of its existence. When I Google “International Neurocardiology Network”, I get 47 results, every one of which is a claim by McCraty to be a member of it.

The American Autonomic Society does have a webpage, here. The webpage includes a helpful membership application where you can pay them $300 for membership, earning you a subscription to their journal and greatly decreased fees for attending their annual meeting. Their list of members is lorem ipsum text, but I’m totally willing to give Dr. McCraty the benefit of the doubt on this one.

The Pavlovian Society seems less prestigious than the American Autonomic Society, given that their membership application only involves a $30 fee and has to be sent by “mail, fax, or email”. What is this, 1995?

The Association for Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback not only sells membership for $189, but in several parts of its site equivocates between the terms “member” and “customer”.

So of the five impressive-sounding organizations McCraty starts his bio with, one doesn’t list him as a member, one doesn’t seem to exist, and three give membership freely for a fee.

But aside from these organizational memberships, Dr. McCraty is widely published with many fascinating and well-accepted studies. Unfortunately, the fascinating ones aren’t well-accepted, and the well-accepted ones aren’t fascinating.

For example, on one hand we had the study showing my heart rate can affect your brain waves even when we’re not touching, which would certainly be ground-breaking if true. But it was not peer-reviewed and was published in a random compendium associated with a HeartMath advisor.

And on the other hand, we have The Heart Re-Innervates Itself After Transplantation. This is in the Annals of Thoracic Surgery, an excellent peer-reviewed publication. But McCraty is one of twelve authors, and the study just shows that nerve growth goes on after heart transplant. Interesting if you’re a thoracic surgeon, but not exactly the spooky-action-at-a-distance they were talking about before.

This seems to be a common problem with HeartMath. Looking at their list of publications, it seems to be about 50% studies they have published themselves without peer review, 25% studies published in journals of alternative medicine with no standards, and 25% studies in real journals that show relatively boring results. For example, A Controlled Pilot Study Of Stress Management Training of Elderly Patients With Congestive Heart Failure in the perfectly reputable journal Preventative Cardiology tests one of HeartMath’s coherence-building relaxation techniques on the title population. They find that it in fact decreases stress, but “the twenty four hour heart rate variability showed no significant changes in autonomic tone”. In other words, their claims are that they’ve discovered some master switch to the body that can even cross air gaps into other people’s brains, but their reputable studies get results like “relaxation makes people less stressed”.


Everything I’ve talked about so far – the “coherence” “techniques”, the “second brain”, the heart’s magnetic field, the transfers of heart rhythms across air gaps – has been part of HeartMath’s public-facing persona. This is the stuff they use to sound reasonable to doctors so they can get their techniques into hospitals and other sober institutions. Hold on tight, because we are going to start investigating the deranged world of HeartMath’s non-public-facing core.

First let’s expand on this idea of “coherence”. Coherence just means your heart rhythm is in a nice sine wave pattern, right? Let’s ask Coherence: Bridging Personal, Social, and Global Health, by Childre & McCraty, published in the journal Alternative Therapies‘ July 2010 edition. All emphasis mine:

The heart plays a unique role in synchronizing the activity across multiple systems and levels of organization. The heart is uniquely well-positioned to act as the ‘global coordinator’ in the body’s symphony of functions to bind and synchronize the system as a whole…

There is compelling evidence to suggest that the heart’s energy field is coupled to a field of information that is not bound by the classic limits of time and space. This evidence comes from a rigorous experimental study that investigated the proposition that the body receives and processes information about a future event before the event actually happens. Even more tantalizing are indications that the heart receives intuitive information before the brain does and that the heart sends a different pattern of afferent signals to the brain, which modulates the frontal cortex. This suggests that the heart is directly coupled to a subtle energetic field of information that is entangled in and interacts with the multiplicity of energetic fields in which the body is embedded – including that of the quantum vacuum

Just as individual incoherence leads to pathologies within the individual, group incoherence leads to social pathologies – violence, abuse, terrorism, etc. There is a feedback loop between the individuals in a group and the group’s level of coherence. When individuals are not well self-regulated or are acting only in their own best interests without regard to others, it generates social incoherence…Unfortunately, social incoherence is characterized by a lack of unity, common purpose, peace, and harmony in or among families, neighbors, or employees in workplace environments.

The Global Coherence Initiative is a science-based organization focused on examining the interactions between humans and the Earth’s energetic fields. One of the project’s hypotheses is that the Earth’s magnetic and geomagnetic fields created in the ionosphere in turn create bidirectional feed-forward and feedback loops within the collective emotional energy of humanity. More and more people are realizing that solar and universal energetic influxes are a part of a natural cycle with potential benefits to humanity. Yet people have a responsibility for their own energy and how it can be used to create deeper connections and more caring interactions with others and with the Earth itself, including all living entities.

If, as some content, all living systems are indeed interconnected and communicate with each other via biological and electromagnetic fields, it stands to reason that humans can work together in a concreative relationship to consciously increase global coherence. This can only occur when enough individuals and social groups increase their coherence baseline and utilize that increased coherence in innovative problem solving and intuitive discernment for addressing social, environmental, and economic problems. In time, global coherence will be indicated by countries adopting a more coherent planetary view. At this level of scale, social and economic oppression, warfare, cultural intolerance, crime, and disregard for the environment can be addressed meaningfully and successfully.

Strong claims. Any research to back that up?

Well, yes. But it’s called The Psychophysiology of Entrepreneural Intuition: A Quantum-Holographic Theory, and says that:

A new study shows that both the brain and the heart are involved in processing a pre-stimulus emotional response to the future event. Drawing on this research and on the principles of quantum holography, we develop a theory of intuitive perception. The theory explains how focused emotional attention directed to the object of interest (such as a potential future business opportunity) attunes the psychophysiological systems to a domain of quantum-holographical information, which contains implicit information on the object’s future potential. The body’s perception of such implicit information about the object’s future is experienced as an intuition.

In other words, entrepreneurs tap into the nonlocal holographic nature of reality in order to get hot startup tips. At this point I probably don’t need to add that the Institute of HeartMath is based in the Bay Area.

Can we get weirder? I think we can. A HeartMath press release: You Can Change Your DNA:

Many people have mistakenly believed that the DNA with which we are born is the sole determinant for who we are and will become, but scientists have understood for decades that this genetic determinism is a flawed theory.

Then they go on to bring up epigenetics, which is quickly replacing quantum mechanics as the Thing I Most Expect To Be Brought Up In Situations Like This. To reputable scientists, epigenetics means that the methylation of genes affects functions. But to HeartMath it means:

After two decades of studies, HeartMath researchers say other factors such as the appreciation and love we have for someone or the anger and anxiety we feel also influence and can alter the outcomes of each individual’s DNA blueprint…The influence or control individuals can have on their DNA – who and what they are and will become – is further illuminated in HeartMath founder Doc Childre’s theory of heart intelligence. Childre postulates that “an energetic connection or coupling of information” occurs between the DNA in cells and higher dimensional structures – the higher self or spirit.

Go on…

When we activate the power of our hearts’ commitment and intentionally have sincere feelings such as appreciation, care and love, we allow our hearts’ electrical energy to work for us. Consciously choosing a core heart feeling over a negative one means instead of the drain and damage stress causes to our bodies’ systems, we are renewed mentally, physically and emotionally. The more we do this the better we’re able to ward off stress and energy drains in the future. Heartfelt positive feelings fortify our energy systems and nourish the body at the cellular level. At HeartMath we call these emotions quantum nutrients.

There’s our quantum mechanics!

But is there proof?

Oh, yes. There is the best proof.

Modulation Of DNA Conformation By Heart-Focused Intention is a paper by McCraty (again), Atkinson, and Tomasino. The methodology is simple: the subject (in one case, Doc Childre himself) brings their heart rhythm into “coherence”, then stares at a beaker of DNA and wills it to unwind. The DNA complies. According to the paper, 10.27% of DNA willed at in this way unwound, compared to only 1.09% of control DNA (p < 0.01). Since this result is obviously too boring to even be worth mentioning, the experimenters up the ante by testing the "nonlocal" version of the effect. Instead of holding the beaker in her hands, the subject wills DNA in a laboratory half a mile away to unwind. Once again, a highly significant result (2.76% change, p < 0.01). I don't see any obvious screwups in this paper, aside from the conclusion. The skeptical Internet doesn't seem to be of much help either. I can think of a lot of potential problems - waiting different amounts of time to measure the DNA in the two samples, exposing them to different amounts of light, et cetera - but the methods section of the paper doesn't give me any particular reason to think these happened. And they go into great detail to describe their blinding procedures, all of which seem appropriate. But still. You got DNA to unwind by asking politely. From half a mile away. If this were in a peer-reviewed journal, I’d still be doubtful. If it were in a peer-reviewed journal and had been replicated five times by five different teams, I’d still be doubtful. If it were in a peer-reviewed journal and had been replicated ten times by ten different teams including several skeptics and had a strong theory behind it that was well-supported in other ways, I might grudgingly accept it. But we are not at that level. We’re at one experiment, once, not peer-reviewed. At this point, you do not get to conclude that:

The heart serves as a key access point through which information originating in the higher dimensional structures is coupled into the physical human system (including DNA), and that states of heart coherence generated through experiencing heartfelt positive emotions increase this coupling.”

Anyway, the question is: can we get even weirder than this?

Well, I dunno. What do the geomagnetic field, the inauguration of Barack Obama, and a random number generator have in common? If you answered “Nothing, as far as I know,” then yes, we can get weirder.

The Global Coherence Initiative is a project measuring how large-scale events affect some kind of feedback loop between people’s emotional rhythms and the geomagnetic field. The goal is to get so many people into heart-rhythm-coherence that it creates some kind of “global coherence” and, reading between the lines, immanentizes the eschaton.

But all that’s in the future. Right now they only have 10,000 people in 56 countries, who respond to “emergencies” by bringing their heart rhythms into coherence and sending out coherence waves in the appropriate direction. According to the site:

Even as the GCI was still gearing up in startup mode, these members, plus countless others they engaged within their families and communities, responded to several GCI alerts to send coherent energy and care to critical areas of need and crisis around the planet. These efforts of coherent heart are crucial and appreciated. Alerts went for the victims of Hurricane Gustav, conflicts in the Middle East and Democratic Republic of Congo, the financial meltdown and more.

Imagine how screwed up the Middle East would be right now if people weren’t sending coherent energy towards it!

Clearly the Global Coherence Initiative needs to up its game. That’s why they’re asking for your donations to buy $60,000 worth of giant magnetic coils. They say it’s for world peace, but honestly, when your first name is “Doc”, and you run a shadowy organization that is studying telepathic alteration of DNA, and you want $60,000 worth of magnetic coils, I start to get really suspicious.

Anyway, even without their giant coils they are doing good work. And by good work, I mean analyzing how random number generators reacted to Barack Obama’s inauguration. You or I might expect that the generators reacted randomly, but that is why we are random shmucks instead of people named “Doc” running institutes that are in the process of procuring $60,000 worth of magnetic coils. The Institute of HeartMath says the the outpouring of joy following the inauguration caused both a decrease in the variance of the random numbers produced by generators all around the world and subtle but observable fluctuations in Earth’s magnetic field. They note that their partner organization, the Global Consciousness Project, says that “occasions that are meditative and celebratory are often associated with persistent low network variance,” where “networks” here tend to be things like random number generators and the geomagnetic field.

With apologies to Obama himself, that is not exactly the kind of change I can believe in.


We tend to think of alternative medicine practitioners as obvious loons with websites out of 1995 where all the words are IN CAPITAL LETTERS. But sometimes, they’re people with Ph. Ds and a bunch of papers published in prestigious journals who are able to focus on the less controversial aspects of their ideas well enough to infiltrate clinics and hospital systems.

HeartMath’s website is impeccable. Their representatives gave a presentation to a hospital full of doctors – including cardiologists and neurologists – without any missteps that made them look anything less than reputable. Their Board of Scientific Advisors contains some really serious intellectual clout like Abdullah Abdulrahman Al Abdulgader, who is both literally and figuratively a big-name cardiologist as well as leading the entire medical field in number of times the word “Abdul” appears in his name. These are top-notch people.

And then you look a little deeper and you find out that their cute little relaxation exercises are actually a plot to connect to higher dimensions beyond time and space and immanentize the eschaton by messing with Earth’s magnetic field, possibly with the help of $60,000 worth of giant coils and/or Yog-Sothoth.

Remember, these people are working with hospitals, with the military, with the police, and willing to helpfully explain how to apply for grants to bring their technology into the classroom. And they are total loons.

I think heart rate variability is an important concept. And I agree that relaxation exercises derived from yoga are a good way of helping people suffering from stress and even psychiatrically diagnosable anxiety disorders. I actually tried their Quick Coherence technique and it made me feel really good.

But I don’t think giving $3699 to HeartMath to teach you about it is a good investment, and I don’t think they are the best people to be furthering the study of these ideas.

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81 Responses to HeartMath Considered Incoherent

  1. Anonymous says:

    The upside is that your hospital is (presumably) getting patients to do deep breathing exercises and that sort of thing more than they would otherwise, thanks to the HeartMath people giving you their speudoscientific spiel. How many patients would do that on their own, and how many doctors would suggest doing it to patients, in the absence of that influence? It seems like overall, the patients have benefited so far. Except that you are also wasting money.

    If teaching patients “meditation” is unpalatable for whatever reason, how about “invoking the relaxation response”? Doesn’t cost anything, and there is some pretty good Western medical establishment-approved evidence for it last time I checked.

  2. Douglas Knight says:

    Why is it called “coherence” if the goal is to increase variability?

    • Steve says:

      Yeah, perfect sine-wave patterns, also known as “metronomic heartbeat,” or low HRV, means you’re going to have a cardiac event soon: http://circ.ahajournals.org/content/94/11/2850.long (although you may be a great special operator in the meantime).

      Also, Doc Childre seems to have a fictional relative: Clearly a close relative: http://archer.wikia.com/wiki/Dr._Algernop_Krieger#cite_ref-Jeu_Mon.C3.A9gasque_2-2

      • Douglas Knight says:

        Blood pressure cannot follow a sine wave. It is a trail of spikes. The device transforms this to produce some other curve that can be a sine wave, but the sine wave corresponds to high variability. I’m not sure what is varying. Some people have told me that it is the spacing between the spikes, but other sources talk about high frequency components, which sounds like the shape of the spikes.

        Snipers, whether with rifle or camera, want a slow heartbeat, so that they can shoot in the low pressure interval, but I don’t think variability is relevant. People have told me that high variability implies that heart rate can quickly rise and fall in response to exercise beginning and ending, and that this is good, but they didn’t mention commandos.

        • Douglas Knight says:

          Maybe the graph is heart rate as a function of point in the breathing cycle, and that can be a sine wave. High variability is being very responsive to the breathing cycle and is a proxy for being responsive to other things, like exertion.

        • Douglas Knight says:

          And maybe meditation and breathing exercises increase coherence not by changing the heart, but by changing breathing. Breathing slower and more deeply probably increases the absolute response of the heart without affecting the responsiveness.

  3. James Miller says:

    I have the emWave2 from HeartMath. Before I did neurofeedback the device didn’t work for me, its output seemed completely random. After doing lots of neurofeedback the device seems to work and (I think) responds when I go into relaxation mode. Overall, however, the device hasn’t been very useful to me. One of my neurofeedback providers used the emWave2 and from what I could tell this provider was extremely knowledgeable about his field. I bought the emWave2 on the recommendation from the Bulletproof Executive.

    • jsalvatier says:

      Good to know you haven’t found it useful. I had been considering getting one of these stress monitoring devices, because that seems like something useful to get better at noticing.

    • A. Mendelsohn says:

      Are you sure you don’t just want to get an Omega-meter? At least when you get that to work you get to hear jingle bells.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I actually think it’s possible that their biofeedback devices are useful. It would just be recording how much you’ve increased your parasympathetic to sympathetic ratio ie how relaxed you are. Which might help some people.

    • mareofnight says:

      I used to use one (for a few months before I had to give it back because I’d borrowed it from the uni psychologist and was going home for the summer). I also used some other sensors that hooked up to a computer and made graphs at around the same time, so I can’t really say whether the emwave helped at all for learning how to breathe. (I do think having a graph of my breathing was useful for learning the right rhythm. I’m not sure if the emwave alone gives enough feedback for that.) For relieving anxiety, the mechanic where you “loose points” if your heart rate isn’t on track is kind of problematic.

      Now I just time my breathing to a watch with a noisy quartz movement. I find that a lot more pleasant than using the emwave, but I think a lot of the improvement is having the ticking noise so that I can close my eyes while I do it. (The emwave’s bright lights and computer-y beeping are also a bit grating.)

    • SanguineEmpiricist says:

      If someone like you could get fooled by this stuff, what chance do most people stand?

  4. Noumenon72 says:

    That sentence about Dr. Abdulgader justifies the entire post.

  5. Justis Mills says:

    Good takedown. I wonder how different his life path would have been if his name was something other than “Doc.” “Cap’n” for example.

  6. Lesser Bull says:

    Before I began to read, my heart intuited that I was going to laugh.

  7. person says:

    Now I want to try their coherence technique. Can you say what it is to save us the fee?

    • Scott Alexander says:

      They have a couple, and I bet you can find them on their site if you look hard enough, but the one we learned in hospital goes:

      1. Focus your attention on your heart area. If it helps, you can put your hands over your heart.

      2. Breathe in and out slowly and deeply. Pretend you’re breathing “through” your heart, so that you imagine your breath coming in and out of your heart area.

      3. Think of a very happy thought, some time you felt perfectly relaxed, or felt deep gratitude.

      (Remember not to shout “EXPECTO PATRONUM” during Step 3 or else it’s something else instead of achieving heart coherence.)

      I can unironically recommend this technique as a good relaxation/grounding method.

      • Daniel H says:

        Now I’m picturing a patronus bursting through somebody’s chest. That’s probably not actually good for the heart.

      • Jonathan Weissman says:

        When I meditate, I direct my attention away from my heartbeat, because it turns out that worrying that my heartbeat is too fast is horribly ineffective at slowing my heartbeat.

      • mareofnight says:

        Do any of the techniques you heard of involve anything timing-related? I was taught to do something sort of similar to this for anxiety, and they said there was something good about having five heartbeats while breathing in and five while breathing out.

  8. Unwinding DNA sounds very unspecific and not biologically useful. I’d be more impressed if they’d heal some mice or possibly even some humans.

    The Middle East could be more messed up. Things can always be worse, and in this case, probably will be.

    • Pthagnar says:

      might be a useful feature to build into such as PCR machines. maybe have some heart-shaped light shine, or have it beep out a little jingle to tell all the grad students in the lab to think happy thoughts

  9. Harald K says:

    Right now they only have 10,000 people in 56 countries, who respond to “emergencies” by bringing their heart rhythms into coherence and sending out coherence waves in the appropriate direction

    This idea of a vanguard of positive thinkers sounds a lot like Maharishi Manesh Yogi’s Natural Law Party. I wonder if there’s an ideological connection.

    • von Kalifornen says:

      Does it work in reverse? If so, fascism should be a superweapon in and of itself.

      • Multiheaded says:

        In Hitler’s Army, Omer Bartov suggests that intensified Nazi propaganda actually had a huge effect on the Wehrmacht’s morale and tenacity from 1943 onwards, and that ordinary soldiers took very strongly to Goebbels’ narrative, galvanizing them to fight after the loss of their previous self-image of an extremely professional, technologically and tactically superior organization in the face of growing Soviet experience and material superiority. Bartov makes a stronger version of the almost universally accepted claim that ordinary Germans were highly devoted to the Hitler myth, swept under the rug post-war.

        However, I would also assume that the Nazis could only get to such degrees of group cohesion and determination by the same process that produced their uniquely insane and broken leadership. I’d say there’s good evidence that Nazism is a self-destructive kind of superweapon that only got as far as it did by riding a certain momentum from the explosive resolution of a tension between Weimar high modernism (which I’d say was specifically anti-reactionary) and reactionary tendencies.

        (There are many subtle differences with the Japanese parallel, originating in the unique path that their construction of nationalism took in the late Meiji era, and the spiral of insanity that twisted some cultural things out of all proportion. I’d hesitate to say that Italian fascism was at all like merely an incompetent version of Nazism; I’m too ignorant about Italy to speculate what it was like.)

  10. John says:

    I’m a mathematics student who did some programming work for a Speech-Language-Hearing professor’s brain-computer-interface project. So I’m not actually trained in neurology or anything, but from what I’ve overheard from working in his lab (Wouldn’t mind if an actual neurological dude chimed in here):
    -Muscle movement generates much bigger magnetic energy than neurons do. So it seems to me that the heart, being the only organ that I know of that is made of muscle, will naturally have the strongest magnetic field of any organ.
    -‘Changing brain waves’ is a cheap and easy thing to do. Things which cause measurable changes in brain waves include closing your eyes, staring at a symbol flashing at the appropriate frequency, and imagining that you are moving your hand without actually moving it.

    So before reading Scott’s breakdown of the validity of their claims, here’s my thoughts: Heartmath’s claims about the heart and about their technique’s impact on the brain may very well be completely true, but based on my experience, I’m highly confident that their claims are irrelevant to mental and emotional wellness. Thus, the fact that they even mention these things suggests that either I severely misunderstood what my boss told me about muscles and the brain, that Heartmath doesn’t know what they’re talking about, or that Heartmath is trying to deceive the listener by implication without actually making false statements (perhaps to avoid litigation?).

    Now, I doubt Heartmath will be giving a presentation to my math department anytime soon, so I’m more interested in the meta-level analysis of my feelings. Is “making-true-but-irrelevant-claims” a reliable indication of incompetence and/or scaminess? And if I wanted to be unethical, how effective is “making-true-but-irrelevant-claims” at convincing people of your claims?

    • Daniel H says:

      I’m not sure, but I noticed that much of the “bailey” was also true or almost-true, but in uninteresting ways. As one example:

      [T]he heart is directly coupled to a subtle energetic field of information that is entangled in and interacts with the multiplicity of energetic fields in which the body is embedded – including that of the quantum vacuum…

      Quantum field theory does in fact say that there are a multiplicity of energetic fields in which the body (or anything else in the universe) is embedded, and that these things are indeed connected to those fields (namely, by being composed of the fields). That this is true of the heart specifically is uninteresting. I don’t know enough quantum mechanics to know if the details of the connection can actually be expressed in the terms used here, but those terms are general enough that it wouldn’t surprise me.

    • person says:

      given that they are basically selling the placebo effect, its probably difficult for them to oversell it. i.e. the more grand their claims the better it will work.

      Its possible they are also selecting for gullibility. the more grand of claims they make the fewer skeptics will try it. then the only people who will be trying their products are the people who strongly believe; and these people are the ones that the products will actually have the most effect on.

  11. Armstrong For President 2020 says:

    So presumably the representatives who came to lecture you guys were being paid by the hospital. Not sure what the going rate there is, but if it’s anything like convention speakers thats at least several thousand dollars and possibly travel expenses. Maybe a multi-million dollar hospital won’t notice if it wastes some of it’s lecturer budget on cranks but you’d think they’d want to avoid that.

    Is there any screening process other than “these guys have a slick website and a poly-Abdul-ed advisor” or is that really all you need? Because if so I could certainly use some new magnetic coils…

  12. Nestor says:

    yesterday I had to attent a class where one of my attendings (who is otherwise an amazing psychiatrist and teacher whom I have a huge amount of respect for) pushed the same technique and their biofeedback device.

    Yeah, if there’s money involved be cautious when you start raising a stink about this, make sure you aren’t painting a big target on your back.

  13. Andrei says:

    Okay, now apply the same analysis to MIRI.

    • bad at pseudonyms sorry says:

      But if you apply any critical analysis to MIRI, the unfriendly AIs win and subject you to eternal dust specks in the eye when they take over, or something.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Applying this to MIRI doesn’t bother me much. MIRI wears its weirdness proudly on its sleeve and makes no promises, inflated or otherwise.

      Applying this to CFAR, on the other hand, does bother me. They seem grounded in a real cognitive biases literature in the same way that HeartMath is grounded in a real heart rate variability literature. Like HeartMath, they make the jump from “this is a known phenomenon” to “you can make your life much better by going to our $4000 workshop on this phenomenon”. Like HeartMath, they have some preliminary and promising evidence for this, but nothing that rises to the level of replicated peer-reviewed experiments. Like HeartMath, a lot of their prestige comes from them having really impressive people on their scientific advisory board and client list. And like HeartMath, they probably seem well-grounded enough to a lot of people but are secretly associated with weird ideas most people would consider crazy or eschatological (ie MIRI).

      I think they are better than HeartMath in that I inside-view support the crazy eschatological ideas, that the crazy eschatological ideas aren’t really at the foundation of anything they do, and that most of the people who use them are pretty well aware of who they are. I also think they share HeartMath’s status as “a group that probably does some good in spreading interventions that make a lot of people calmer and happier, as long as they don’t try to push it beyond that” – which they have varying success at but, I think, more than HeartMath.

      • Said Achmiz says:

        I have similar reservations about CFAR, and really the big “red flag” for me is the “$4000 workshop” thing. It just seems like a big jump from “this is a known phenomenon” to “pay us $4000”; aren’t we skipping the step of “we’ve determined and demonstrated that our technique has some nontrivial effects, much less the effects we claim”? Then again, I suspect the major benefit of CFAR workshops is networking; the rationality training and its alleged effects seem like window dressing. (This is a somewhat unfair evaluation, but not unreasonably so.)

      • Sarah says:

        So, I’m less anti-placebo than you, I think.

        I have seen a LOT of things like HeartMath, in my time at MetaMed. Sort of in the range of “yeah, it does something good for you, mostly through placebo effects or General Healthiness Effects [e.g. lowering stress levels probably does reduce your risk of cancer through improving immune function]” but the science is largely bunk. Or contains a grain of truth if viewed metaphorically, but is nowhere near literally true. And the stuff is mostly harmless, just heavily overpriced.

        I wouldn’t buy HeartMath stuff, just because it’s so damn expensive, and because the new-age ideology is in bad taste. Would I like an EEG machine one of these days? Yeah, I would. And there are functional-medicine health programs that I would *totally* buy if I could afford them, because they’re kickass placebos that would improve my diet and exercise. (No chelating, though. I like my woo, but I draw the line at pointless health risks.)

        CFAR’s most “scientific” competition, in effect, is therapy. Therapy’s effects are always subjective and involve some placebo-ish phenomena. Your own posts on CBT make clear that we actually have no idea what the most effective kind of therapy is (outside of some specific contexts like phobias.)

        As self-improvement programs go, is CFAR high-quality? Well, I haven’t gone to other retreats, but compared to other people’s written materials, it’s unusually intelligent, non-obvious, and…flexible? Less about “here is the Program, once you go through the Program you will be awesome” and more “there is a Thing you can do with your mind, here are lots of different windows on the Thing, now you have an idea what it feels like to do the Thing, so go out and experiment with it in the real world.”

        CFAR vs. HeartMath? Well, they’re probably both good for you, but CFAR isn’t lying to you, and CFAR is a much better deal for what it is.

        • Do you have an opinion about Far Infrared? I tried a Biomat, and it felt remarkably good, but I didn’t have a convenient ordinary heat source to compare it to.

          I take “feels remarkably good” to be an indicator that something might actually be beneficial. On the other hand, far infrared devices are sold with plentiful amounts of woo– the biomat has crushed semi-precious stones in it.

      • Andrei says:

        Wow, you steelmanned me! 🙂

  14. Keer says:

    I was going to ask on an open thread, but since it’s vaguely relevant here:

    Does anyone have any references / links for a good Idiot’s Guide to Epigenetics? It looks like a really interesting area, but as a non-biologist I’m not sure where to start.

  15. I’d read about HeartMath a while ago at Bullet Proof Executive— would you care to take a crack at their other claims?

  16. Kiboh says:

    If you need any more ammunition for your letter, you might want to explain that it isn’t in the hospital’s best interests to be associated with an organisation that puts weird culty stuff like https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QdneZ4fIIHE on the internet.

    Also, nitpick: they aren’t asking for $60,000 worth of magnetic coils. They are asking for 14 arrangements of magnetic coils set up around the world, EACH of which will cost $60,000. I’m starting to think your suspicions Yog-Sothoth-wise might be valid; this seriously sounds like the start of a badly-written episode of Doctor Who.

  17. gwern says:

    I don’t see any obvious screwups in this paper, aside from the conclusion. The skeptical Internet doesn’t seem to be of much help either. I can think of a lot of potential problems – waiting different amounts of time to measure the DNA in the two samples, exposing them to different amounts of light, et cetera – but the methods section of the paper doesn’t give me any particular reason to think these happened. And they go into great detail to describe their blinding procedures, all of which seem appropriate.

    I don’t see anything particularly obvious either (excluding the usual background hypothesis of fraud, as is not unheard of in parapsychology and alternative medicine). The only thing that seems like a concern, as a non-biologist, is that they seem to have been conducting an awful lot of experiments and never lay out in a single table or paragraph what all the experiments were and what the results were – just a few results they particularly like. (‘This one dude came in angry and held a DNA vial and look, the spectrum shifted!’) The paper is fairly vague in its overview, but definitely leaves that impression:

    We conducted a number of different experiments with DNA over the next year and a half. The first six months were primarily spent performing a series of control studies to insure the stability of the measurement system and refining the protocols. Doc Childre then added the element of intentionality to the protocols, which proved to be a key factor. Some of the key results of this series of studies were presented at research conferences and published in several conference proceedings. 1-4 We have since received so many requests for the results of this research that we are now making a summary of our findings available in this brief report…In addition to the main protocol described above, several variations of the basic experiment were performed. These included a series of trials to determine whether DNA could be intentionally influenced over greater distances…Figure 5 shows an example from a series of experiments in which the individual maintaining heart coherence and intending to change the DNA was 0.5 miles from the DNA sample. In this example, the intention was to increase the winding of the DNA. In other such nonlocal experiments the intention to unwind the DNA caused a corresponding increase in the absorption peak at 260 nm (data not shown). Results from a series of five nonlocal trials demonstrated a significant change in DNA conformation (mean change 2.76%, p < 0.01).

    How many experiments were run over that year using intentionality? They don’t say. What sort of variability did those baseline experiments show? How many is ‘several’ or ‘a series’? What did the other nonlocal trials show? This is important because from the sound of it, the experiments can be run really fast:

    At the beginning of each experiment, the DNA samples were heat-treated (80 ̊ C for 2 minutes) to partially denature (unwind) the DNA. All samples were stored at 4° C in a separate building before and after each experimental run. For each trial, the conformation of DNA was measured before and after exposure to the subject’s intention using a Hewlett Packard ultraviolet (UV) absorption spectrophotometer. The winding and unwinding (conformational state) of DNA is measured by changes in the absorption of UV light at 260 nm…Each sample of DNA was contained in small sealed test tube, which was placed in a beaker to eliminate any direct contact with the test tube containing the DNA solution. Target samples were given to all individuals approximately one minute after physiological recordings had begun. The subjects held the beaker containing the test tube for two minutes, during which time the ECG was continuously recorded

    So, 2 minutes to heat up, a few minutes to run between buildings, however long it takes to use a spectrophotometer, a minute to let physiological recordings warm up, 2 minutes for the actual intervention, and another spectrophotometer run. I’d guess under half an hour.

    Subject-wise, they tested at least 28 people (‘in the main study’), in 1-3 different conditions:

    In the main study reported on here, the experimental group consisted of ten individuals who were trained and experienced in HeartMath’s heart-focused coherence-building techniques. These participants self-generated focused feelings of love and appreciation while holding the intention to cause a sample of DNA to either wind or unwind. Eighteen individuals with no training in Heart- Math techniques served as controls.

    This offers a bit of scope in running the analysis various ways: combine the conditions, split the groups, do between-groups analyses, within, etc.

    The HeartMath-trained participants each performed a trial in three different conditions: (1) while in a heart-focused state (generating feelings of love and appreciation) and holding the intention to cause a specific change in the DNA; (2) while in a heart-focused state with no intention to change the DNA; and (3) in their normal state but with the intention to cause a specific change in the DNA. Control group participants performed a trial in only one condition: a heart-focused state with the intention to cause a change in the DNA.

    What sort of control group is that? And also, what did the net results look like per condition? They aren’t very clear:

    In the trials in which individuals practiced in Heart-Math techniques were instructed to generate feelings of love and appreciation while holding a specific intention to cause a change in the DNA (either wind or unwind), there was an increase in heart coherence (with the specific type of coherence varying among different participants). There was also a significant change in the conformation of the DNA (mean change 10.27%, p < 0.01). In some cases, changes in DNA conformation of up to 25% were observed, indicating a very robust effect. In contrast, the control group showed no significant increase in heart coherence and produced no significant change in the DNA (mean change 1.09%; data not shown). In general, the individuals who generated the highest heart coherence ratios produced the most marked effects on the conformational changes of the DNA.

    So which experimental conditions, just (1)? I also wonder what the max change was in the control group, and whether the measurement tools are precise enough that they would record only a mean change of 1.09% in the control DNA. So, it’s hard to tell, but it looks like they might have been able to generate these results just by experimenting constantly for a year (especially since the experiments are so quick & easy to run), exploiting some degrees of freedom, and reporting only the most striking results.

    The substantial change in DNA conformation observed in this trial was three times larger than that which could be produced by maximal thermal and/or mechanical perturbation in the lab, suggesting that physical/chemical alterations in the DNA bases may have also occurred.

    I doubt they tried very hard. Does anyone know how much placental human DNA denatures in lab environments normally?

  18. pwyll says:

    It’s unfortunate that the HeartMath yahoos are running around spreading nonsense, because the concept of Heart Rate Variability does seem to be really useful for stress monitoring and targeting exercise intensity:


    There are a number of heart rate monitors that can measure heart rate variability as well, and several smartphone apps that will graph it for you in real time, e.g.


    I personally have found monitoring HRV to be more useful than just monitoring heart rate, as a way to make sure I’m not making aerobic exercise too strenuous. I’ve read several things indicating the importance of keeping the pace easy when doing cardio:


    I’m also disappointed that the Dave Asprey’s Bulletproof Executive site is pushing HeartMath, since I think his “bulletproof coffee” idea is actually really good: https://www.bulletproofexec.com/how-to-make-your-coffee-bulletproof-and-your-morning-too/

    Asprey seems to push a 50/50 mix of good stuff and nonsense, and it’s annoying to have to evaluate all his claims to try to figure out which is which.

    • Anonymous says:

      “’m also disappointed that the Dave Asprey’s Bulletproof Executive site is pushing HeartMath”

      Why? Maybe sad, but disappointed? Dave Asprey is a complete hack.

  19. Miranda says:

    It’s probably bad how hard I laughed reading this post.

    Also, it’d actually be really cool if there was a relaxation exercise that could get patients to convert themselves out of atrial fibrillation (this would be literally “increasing the coherence” of their heart activity). It’d be better than, y’know, shocking people. Unfortunately, it doesn’t sound like they’ve tried this.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      AFAIK heart rate variability is based on altering the inputs to the SA node, so if your SA node isn’t driving your heartbeat you’re out of luck.

      I did ask during the lecture at my hospital whether HeartMath’s theories implied that people with a-fib were incoherent and depressed and stressed all the time, and whether they had tested this. I got a very noncommittal response.

  20. Error says:

    Are we sure these people aren’t a splinter off of Scientology? (am I really the first person in this thread to make that comparison?)

  21. Ilya Shpitser says:

    “The webpage includes a helpful membership application where you can pay them $300 for membership, earning you a subscription to their journal and greatly decreased fees for attending their annual meeting. ”

    Also true (modulo exact number, but right ballpark) for e.g. statistics.

    It is very interesting that it’s so easy to mislead doctors.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      You’ve got to keep in mind that doctors don’t necessarily know much about the parts of the human body not relevant for treating diseases, and that most doctors know the parts of medicine outside their own specialties in only very broad terms.

  22. Doug S. says:

    HeartMath, incidentally, is on Quackwatch’s list of “questionable organizations”.

  23. Alexander Stanislaw says:

    I’m not sure motte and bailey is the technique that they are using. I think it is a more general problem – arguments that having nothing to do with the conclusion. “The heart sends more information to the brain than vice versa hence the heart can be used to control mental states” isn’t wrong so much as it is not even wrong. The claim and the conclusion and completely orthogonal. I’m wondering if the purpose of this sort of argument is not so much to support the conclusion as it is to say “you should listen to me because I can use fancy language and impressive words”. Its not so much a way of demonstrating one’s correctness as it is signaling one’s legitimacy.

    Unfortunately this has a superficial overlap with genuinely good arguments since any argument involving science is going to use at least a little bit of jargon. This makes me wonder if some people trust scientists and academics for the wrong reasons – not because their arguments are good, but because they signal their intelligence and legitimacy effectively.

  24. Sarah says:

    “We tend to think of alternative medicine practitioners as obvious loons with websites out of 1995 where all the words are IN CAPITAL LETTERS. But sometimes, they’re people with Ph. Ds and a bunch of papers published in prestigious journals who are able to focus on the less controversial aspects of their ideas well enough to infiltrate clinics and hospital systems.

    HeartMath’s website is impeccable. Their representatives gave a presentation to a hospital full of doctors – including cardiologists and neurologists – without any missteps that made them look anything less than reputable.”

    Wait, you didn’t look at the website and think “scam” JUST on the basis of the graphic design? Do not all people have an instinct for scammy-looking graphics?!

    That website has all the hallmarks of direct marketing. I’m just talking about the layout and aesthetic, not the content.

    I am a little surprised that a hospital hosted a lecture by people whose website looks like that. A further update in the direction of ” ‘reputable’/’legitmate’/’respectable’ is not a coherent idea, because people have radically different notions of what is and what isn’t reputable.”

    It’s just. dude. that website looks like the Double Your Dating website. These people aren’t *exactly* scammers but THEY HAVE EXECRABLE TASTE.

    • I hate saying this, but to my eye, it doesn’t look wildly different from the Metamed site. They both have a vibe of “these people are trying to sell me something while trying to tread the line between boring and trendy. It’s not surprising if design converges. Neither looks scammy to me if I ignore content.

      However, my taste may not be normal.

      • Sarah says:

        I can see a commonality but think ours is less extreme in the “looks like a scam” direction. I am not a website designer.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I expect scam websites to look more like this orgonics site.

      Agreed there is a level of sophistication at which HeartMath’s website raises flags, but it’s a much subtler level than the orgonics people.

      • Sarah says:

        The Orgonics website is a plain HTML site. These days, the websites that look like that are those whose owners missed out on Web 2.0. Very old websites, non- trendy websites (many a professor’s homepage looks exactly like that), and very primitive scams. Most modern scams are not plain HTML sites. The hallmarks that say “scam” to me are the stigmata of direct marketing — loud colors, lots of buttons or pop ups involving calls to action, cheap fonts, stock photos, SEO-ese, and a certain datedness in style. (Websites where everything is done in-browser look expensive, and therefore more legitimate. JavaScript is a sign of gentility.)

  25. Steve Johnson says:

    The Institute of Stress has a list of all its fellows online, McCraty is not mentioned.


  26. Panflutist says:

    I am baffled by the fact that there are people who insist on “proving” that the heart is more “important” than the brain. It seems like what they really want to “prove” is that emotions are more “important” than dry reason. Somehow they can’t disassociate the heart as a symbol from the emotions symbolized by it. I remain confused.

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  28. Chris LeMaire says:

    Well, there are a few problems with the DNA denaturation study that I noticed. Note that absorbance units aren’t included on the scale for the first figure showing increased denaturation. It’s not damning in itself, just sloppy.

    However, the claim is made that intention altered the absorbance over 3x what would be expected from complete denaturation by other methods. That is flat out wrong.
    A 20 ug/ml double stranded DNA sample should have an absorbance of around 0.4, so we will assume that we’re reading tenths on the y-axis. Single stranded DNA will absorb about 37% higher than the same amount of double stranded DNA. Tripling that effect would mean more than a 100% increase in the 260nm absorption. This would jack up the reading above 0.8, if the implied scaling is correct. Regardless of the missing units on the graph, that tripling is clearly not the case.

    Someone asked earlier if anyone knew how much placental DNA would spontaneously denature. The answers is: It depends on what the DNA is suspended in.

    I checked Sigma, and they no longer sell placental DNA in a lyophilized form, if they ever did, so this is a bit of speculation. It’s common to ship lyophilized DNA with salt content, so when it is reconstituted the DNA is appropriately buffered in TE, but it’s not always the case. The sample in the paper was reconstitituted with deionized water. DNA in deionized water will spontaneously denature. The backbone has a very strong negative charge from all of the phosphates, and without cations in solution to deal with the charge, the strands will separate on their own.

    By the same token, in a correct buffer DNA will spontaneously renature due to the complementarity of base pairs.

    The upshot of that, is there is a real time sensitivity to DNA denaturation, and renaturation, as well as a dependence on the aqueous environment of the DNA.

    Regardless of what their claims are, they don’t understand the system that they are trying to take measurements with.

    I remember the initial report on their website when they were getting this study rolling. In that case, they were using an ND-1000 NanoDrop as their UV-VIS system. (Awesome machine, by the way!)

    They were performing analogous experiments, but the DNA concentration was low, pretty much at the detection threshold of the instrument. At those low levels, small changes in absorbance would correspond to large changes in % denaturation, and that’s exactly what they reported. The problem: They didn’t read the manual. According to documentation, the machine is accurate to +/- 0.02 absorbance units (if I remember correctly). All of the changes they were recording were within that 0.02 instrument accuracy wobble.

    So, I would guess one of two things:

    They REALLY understand what they are doing, and game things just right given that knowledge. (Unlikely.)

    They have no idea what they are doing, don’t understand the systems that they are using, and are looking for proof to justify rather than falsify their conclusions because they are just so super-excited about what they BELIEVE they have discovered. (Likely.)

  29. arberg says:

    I think it is important to separate the issue of the research ability of HeartMath and the usefulness of their emWave2 device (or heart rate variability training in general). I had no clue till reading this, how far gone HeartMath is in terms of trustworthy research, so thanks to you Scott for enlightening me.

    However they may despite their scrazed science have built a biofeedback device which is useful. I have known several engineers highly skilled at building an engine and observing nature in order to perfect their machine (doing science), but who didn’t have a clue as to decompartmentalising that science knowledge. A Standard problem. I think the same may have happened at HeartMath, but then they thought themselves skilled and proceeded down a crazy road doing ‘science’ (not that I know what came first, crazy science or HRV devices from them). I think they should have their due credit for building the emWave device – whether they stole the idea of biofeedback HRV or themselves decided to measure heart rate of meditating people – found HRV – and then built a biofeedback device for HRV.

    I have found there are good things to be said about their emWave2 device. I and my wife find it useful for stress-relief. My wife has constant thoughts in her head, and has had music her head non-stop for the last half year (except when listening to music more or less) – poor her. But she finds it easier to meditate when something beeps at her that she’s doing it right. Regarding their three steps to coherence training both I and my wife found that thinking happy thoughts messes with the process, its far more useful to visualize the heart beating faster and slowing down, and gives almost immediate feedback from the device that we are doing good. But then I can easily imagine that their science for how to best use the device is also flawed. I can feel a difference between a 10 min session where I get it to beep happily (high HRV) and where I fail to get it beeping. That also goes if I don’t hear the beeps (but read results after session). Or so I think.

    Regarding sensitivity of their emWave2 device their ear sensor works for me, whereas a brand new Polar bluetooth H7 sensor + app does not work for me. I believe I have thick skin and sensors have some difficulty getting a good signal. This is just to say, even crazy people sometimes get it right.

    But please, if you have money to donate I’m all with Scott that HeartMath is probably not best value for money for furthering HRV science.

  30. An Anon says:

    Note that electrical engineering degrees normally include (a) required course(s) in signal analysis, and introductory signal analysis includes performing assorted mathematical transformations on waves. Some of those transformations can make waves look completely different. None of them are magic data-warpers, but when no numbers are shown, lots of measurements are made, and no details of how the data was processed into those wave patterns are given? They may as well be.

    Example procedure for making any 2 periodic signals look roughly alike on graphs where one gets to omit and/or manipulate labels, wave sections shown, and transformations performed at will:
    1. Filter out / heavily dampen frequency components that are not very close to the dominant frequency, leaving behind a signal that will appear to be mostly a sine wave with little bits of jitter in sections where all components near the dominant frequency are in phase. (This is even easier for ‘regular-wave’like signals such as heartbeats, as they typically will not have strong components near the dominant frequency.)
    1. a) Perform a Fourier transform on each signal.
    1. b) Find the dominant frequency of each signal (the highest spike in the transformed signal). If there are multiple frequencies tied for dominance, pick any one.
    1. c) Apply a very narrow and sharp bandpass filter to each signal with the passband centered around the dominant frequency. Exact details of “very narrow and sharp” will depend on the signals provided, and this is the main step to come back and tweak if initial results are unsatisfactory. As an example starting point, pick any filter such that all frequencies more than 2% away from the dominant frequency have their amplitude reduced by at least 10 dB.
    1. d) Invert the Fourier transform to get back a time-varying signal for each original signal.
    2. Look for a section in each new signal such that all the non-negligible components in the passband are in phase or close to it; this section should look mostly like a sine wave with some jitter. If no satisfactory section can be found, tweak the passband filter used on that signal and note that those filters often affect phase. (This can usually be skipped for ‘regular wave’like signals, because they tend not to have non-negligible components other than the dominant frequency that can get into the passband and so they wind up without multiple component phases in need of matching.)
    3. Plot the chosen section of each manipulated signal with the x-axis in periods of the dominant frequency and the y-axis normalized so the amplitudes look similar.
    4. Fiddle as needed.

    (source: had to take signal analysis course; was extremely rushed and not able to do well but retained the rough gist of it)

    Obviously, this sort of thing is much harder to hide when one is required to show their raw data and what processing one did.

    Note also that electrical engineers can be on biomedical device teams for good and legitimate reasons; for example, signal analysis (and designing devices that can perform signal processing) is also good for recognizing abnormal heart rhythms.

  31. Paul says:

    Any comments or blog about MBraining? Sure like to know.

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  33. Anonymous says:

    Quite a treatise. You have many opinions in your “research.” Did you actually try it more than once? Have you ever researched what is charged to hospitals for “consultations and training? ” HeartMath products are relatively cheap. I have worked in a hospital the past 22 years and I can tell you that there is true crap sold for way more. The other point I want to make is the comments using the term pseudosciences. Have you actually read periodicals that show the research in the neurosciences or seen research conducted by pharma. When I hear the label “pseudoscience” from someone, I know they have never actually looked at studies done by conventional organizations over the accepted norm of materialistic science. There are ream of bad studies which are accepted because they come from someone funded by Merck. So, maybe this isn’t for you, OK. What if someone can be helped (and by the way, you can learn their technique for under $16 from their books, sold on Amazon) by reducing stress or anxiety. Cheaper than a visit to the movies. There are thousands of techniques used for the same purpose, maybe you could use one of the many free ones that have lots of “realistic” “research.” Nice thing about blogs is you get to voice your opinion. Well, opinion heard.

    • arberg says:

      @Anonymous: Scotts post is mainly about whether or not the science which Heart Math conducts is likely to be correct, and thus whether their scientific claims are worth anything. Scotts arguments are pretty clear on that account, and I would think a counter argument would have to include some kind of mentioning of their science.

      The other part as I mentioned in my comment above, is whether they might have built a good device. You seem to think they do, so do I, and I have worked at a computer for 22 years.

      I find that I like Heart Math less after reading Scott post. I would of cause have hoped to like them better after reading it, as the post have gotten me to know Heart Math better, and that should preferably have made me like Heart Math even more. But it is hardly Scotts blame, that ‘knowing Heart Math better’ makes me like them less. I’m guessing you got struck on that account.

  34. Philip Merry says:

    Anyone who resorts to insults (“they are total loons”) in their appraisal of others clearly is not worth reading. And when barely concealed bias (Abdul reference, based in the Bay area) is used then I know that this is not an objective appraisal, rather a rant against something that challenges the author’s beliefs. Shame that the article missed out on a chance for real appraisal by the author clearly wanting to debunk for the sake of debunking. It would not surprise me if he does not like Deepak Chopra either

  35. Margaret says:

    Wow! This whole blog and many of the responses are perfect examples of the result of reactive emotions and thoughts. I am not surprised that you are finding no value in the HeartMath® research or practice. How could you with the negative and cynical attitude you are evaluating it with?
    Having some actual acquaintance with so many people whose lives have been transformed using these techniques, through their capacity to self-regulate their emotions and thereby access creative higher brain thinking and perspectives on life, I can only feel compassion for what you are missing.
    No system is perfect for everyone, but how sad that your opinions may prevent others from finding what will help them lead happier and more fulfilling lives.
    I hope you yourself can find a better way to contribute instead of tearing down what someone else has created for others.

  36. Brenda says:

    Helpful. Thank you. I use hrv as a proxy for stress management – and it does seem to work.

    There are some quite good apps available for measuring hrv and coherence – they do most of the useful stuff, like feedback, recording achievement, progress and so on.

  37. Laetitia de leede says:

    Dear Scott,

    I read your MessagePad with great interest. I was wondering, if you work in a hospital and you do not believe in all the claims, why don’t you set up a well controlled experimen with a statistically significant amount of patients to prove your conviction that this is not working? You are in an excellent position to do this it seems.

    Good luck and kind regards,
    A Heartmath user

  38. John says:

    I find it curious how someone spends so much effort in trying to prove a product is false.
    Too bad for the disproving attitude of many here. I recommend trying to change that into a curious attitude without trying to judge on something on the basis of incomplete information. Just my 2 cents.

    I agree with the comment (below) of someone on another forum. To me it has been a great product that improved my life unlike any other product did.

    “The basic science behind HeartMath and emWave is not HeartMath’s – it is fact based on tons of research over the last 10 years. The stress response- the fact that we respond emotionally first and think afterwards when we are under pressure, the link between HRV and our emotional state and the balance or lack of it in the autonomic nervous system. (when we breathe in HRV increases, when we breathe out it decreases. Recent Neurocardiology research has proved heart-brain communication. We know from extensive research the link between our emotional state and the hormonal balance (cortisol/DHEA) of our system. The emWave is purely a HRV monitor – when we are stressed our HRV pattern is chaotic, when we are coherent (our systems in balance around a resonant frequency of 0.1hz) it produces a smooth sine like wave.”

  39. anonymous says:

    Having observed heartmathies for decades, I applaud your article. Before Heartmath and “doc” lew childre there was Christopher Hill who had the California bunch of people believing in aura balancing and the new life from eating spirulina algae which spawned a pyramid sales scheme. They published & sold their own books authored by Hills & Dr. Rozman (her ph.d. came from Hills who created University of the Trees and granted degrees). It was a group of nice, largely spoiled, well to do, east coast transplants to lovely California doing 70’s style new agey stuff. Hills big position was getting rid of your ego (and aligning yourself with his). He was larger than life and had a ‘to the manor born’ attitude which allowed him to hold sway over this group of kids who were all about 30 and are now at least 70. And hey, it was the 70’s and these were the original flower children – pliable, biddable. Financially he beggared everyone but kept them on the tit so they were fed & housed. Then in 1990 or so, Lew childre and his merry band appeared on the scene from North Carolina and with very little effort spread the Kool Aid around (heartmath, cigs are ok, & 20 mins of cardiovascular exercise every day for everyone) and ousted Dr Hills. After childre took over, the group of Hills’ former devotees sued him to give them one of his properties & because his tapes were easily available, they won. They are all part of a few LLC’s which makes them “owners”; the principal of which they will never see. Future promises for another younger group taking up the baton is unlikely to materialize. the average income for a HM is about $2 an hour. They get housed, they get fed, they must attend lew’s lectures & community meetings 4 or 5 nights a week, work 6 days a week, hike with him on sunday & do other group activities. If there is a decision to be made, the group waits for Lew to make it & like lemmings, they follow. If they get any money they are supposed to give it to HM. They are told how much, when, and what to eat. If a family member or other visitor wants to come visit one of the people who live at HM properties, it must be cleared with Childre first, so the standard response is, I’ll get back to you. If someone voices treasonous thoughts or expressed something that is not in the dogma, they community members are encouraged to rat them off to childre. The children were taken out of public school and “home” schooled. None that I know of ever went to college. One of them developed mysterious illnesses rendering her “totally ” disabled with what appears to be (surprise!) an eating disorder. There were only about 5 children total; 2 from California & 3 from North Carolina. The 3 North Carolinians left but 2 Californians are still there one of whom is sick. If a person defects from the group, they no longer receive the “benefits” . Each HM gets a leased car, a new computer, housing & institutional food; trappings of a successful material existence when in fact they live in total poverty). If they travel for work they must give their FF miles to HM. At holiday time, they put all the stuff they don’t want in a room for others to pore over for gifts someone in their family might like. I tried the emwave once – I put it on and breathed slowly for 3 breaths. It turned green and I was congratulated. A friend was getting the spiel on heart intelligence and asked how it worked with a transplant recipient. ha ha. It is snake oil. No different than church, meditation, etc. Eventually the collection plate is passed & you must swear allegiance or you will be an outsider, something none of us want. We all want to belong, we all want to feel good & have some control over our bodies & minds & souls. Transcendental Meditation is old school. Here’s the new stuff. Right on the heels of What the Bleep do we Know or at the same time. We’re nothing if not a society of consumers & discontent here in the US. The “science” is fun for pajama parties like levitation and hypnosis but then you really should outgrow it and know that you are what you do in life, and a vicious tongue and deceit should be avoided for a good (godly) life. Life is hard and at times really hard. Sometimes it’s supposed to be. Sometimes it’s just damned terrible circumstances. Learning to slow yourself down and get calm is a valuable tool that has been around for millenia. I met “doc” once. He gave me a thousand yard stare and did not verbally acknowledge me when i was introduced. No coherence there. He should be outed and ousted. This is wacko like waco.

  40. Christine M. Kunert says:

    I very much appreciated this article on HearthMath. I also have found other essays here very informative and have added your website to my Favorites. Just one comment (and I tried to find a personal contact but didn’t see any), unless you’re writing from the UK, the quotation marks go outside the punctuation. From grammarbook.com: Rule 3a. Periods and commas ALWAYS go inside quotation marks.

    The sign said, “Walk.” Then it said, “Don’t Walk,” then, “Walk,” all within thirty seconds.
    He yelled, “Hurry up.”