I saw a table set up for "Free Stress Test" that someone was sitting at looking forlorn because everybody was walking past.

I asked how it worked and she got me to sit down with these two cans attached to a device she called an "e-meter" with a retro looking meter/arm thingy. While I held a can in each hand she twiddled with some knobs on the machine while explaining that emotions actually have weight (like it's a scientific fact).

Then as I was watching the meter she pinched me and the arm swung across. Then she told me to recall that moment and the arm swung again!

The rest of the discussion was her pretty hard-selling me a book called *Dianetics the Modern Science of Mental Health by trying to delve into my personal life in search of times I was upset. She kept putting it in my hand.

I've worked in retail and recognised the tactics, but this was like 100 times more intense than anything I've seen. It weirded me out, then when I said I'd ask about it online here before spending any money she went all wide-eyed and insisted the internet was full of lies.

Anyway I was more interested in the way the device worked. When I asked if it was anything more than a Galvanometer, she looked like she was hiding the fact that she'd never heard that word, and evaded my specific questions about what's inside it, even when I tried prompting her with guesses about a Wheatstone bridge. She didn't talk about crystals or stuff like that though.

So now I'm home after agreeing to revisit her, and on the internet again asking here before doing a search, what's the deal? Are there any reputable sites that examine this device?

  • 9
    In case you aren't aware, the person you spoke to is a Scientologist. The E-meter and Dianetics are core parts of the recruitment process for this cult. There is some good info about the device itself on wikipedia en.wikipedia.org/wiki/E-meter, your guess about a Wheatstone Bridge is pretty spot on. Aug 2, 2012 at 4:49
  • 1
    As far as I'm aware, the e-meter is an "ooh, there's something wrong with you, come back tomorrow" recruitment tool. I've heard it can be directly influenced by the operator via their controls. Unfortunately I don't know that they make any substantial claims about them.
    – John Lyon
    Aug 2, 2012 at 4:56
  • 1
    FWIW, Hubbard wrote a patent for this device, including schematics.
    – Chel
    Aug 2, 2012 at 8:08

2 Answers 2


What Scientology says:

Mr. Hubbard developed the E-Meter based on the knowledge that the mind contains mental image pictures, actual recordings of past experiences. These pictures contain energy and mass.

When a person views one of these mental image pictures, or thinks a thought, the E-Meter registers with precision the changes which occur in this mental mass and energy.

From the book Understanding the E-Meter, by L. Ron Hubbard:

Book Cover [Source]

In Scientology is has been discovered that mental energy is simply a finer, higher level of physical energy. The test of this is conclusive in that a thetan “mocking up” (creating) mental image pictures and thrusting them into the body can increase the body mass and by casting them away again can decrease the body mass.
This test has actually been made and an increase of as much as thirty pounds, actually measured on scales, has been added to, and subtracted from, a body by creating ‘mental energy.’ Energy is energy, matter is condensed energy. [Source]

1 2

3 [Source]

So basically the claim is: mental images increase the mass of the body. This increase can't just be measured with a scale, but also with an E-Meter (electrical current).

From The Skeptic's Dictionary:

There is no concept in physics or neurology of the mass and energy of a mental image.

This is not to say that thoughts don't have physical effects. They do, of course, but it really shouldn't be much of a revelation to find out that when one thinks of the most upsetting thing of the day that it has a negative physical effect.

Finding a reading on a meter while having a thought or feeling is little more than a stage prop, a bit of theater to make the process of telling you what you already know seem magical and scientific.

From David S. Touretzky, Computer Science Department & Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition, Carnegie Mellon University (he is a known critic of Scientology):

The US Food & Drug Administration raided Scientology on January 4, 1963 and seized hundreds of E-meters as illegal medical devices.

The incident is described in Jon Atack's book, A Piece of Blue Sky, and in this essay by Stephen Barrett, M.D.

Since that time, meters have been required to carry a disclaimer stating that they are purely a religious artifact.


  • By itself, this meter does nothing. It is solely for the guide of Ministers of the Church in Confessionals and pastoral counselling. The Electrometer is not medically or scientifically capable of improving the health or bodily function of anyone and is for religious use by students and Ministers of the Church of Scientology only. HUBBARD, E-METER and SCIENTOLOGY are trademarks and service marks owned by RTC and used with its permission.

This appellate court decision describes the trial and the various witnesses who appeared.

L. Ron Hubbard reveals in his book The Book Introducing The E-Meter :

Book Cover

This is a Hubbard Electrometer called an E-Meter for short. Technically it is a specially developed 'Wheatstone Bridge' well known to electrically minded people as a device to measure the amount of resistance to a flow of electricity.

Inside the Mark Super VII

The Hubbard Professional Mark Super VII is the most sophisticated and expensive e-meter yet developed by the Church of Scientology. Its retail price in 1995 was US $3,850.

Mark VII

Mark VII

Although the Church of Scientology claims that their e-meters are made of special high-precision components, the electronic technology in the Mark Super VII is ordinary 1980s-era VLSI, including an Intel 8051 8-bit microprocessor.

An electrical engineer who examined the meter in November, 1995 estimated that devices of this type, custom-manufactured and sold in low volume, would normally retail for around $300 today. That is one twelfth the Church's asking price.

Visit David S. Touretzky's page for a lot more technical details about the E-Meter.


  • This is interesting and relevant... but I do not think it answers the question. That a court decided to stick it in a category does not mean that it actually belongs in that category. And an emotion is different than a mental image. And there is no logical reason provided why an 80's era device could not detect emotions. This is not to say that I think it can detect them just that this does not prove it can not.
    – Chad
    Aug 2, 2012 at 17:08
  • @Chad - You are right, but I couldn't find any studies proving/debunking it. And I'm not sure (by the body of the question) that this is actually what the OP is asking about (the title was an edit by Oddthinking).
    – Oliver_C
    Aug 2, 2012 at 19:10
  • Off-hand, there are some emotions that it might be able to detect some emotional responses due to the change in galvanic skin response due to sweating.
    – rjzii
    Aug 2, 2012 at 19:15
  • @Oliver_C - I also suspect that L.Ron purposely chose words for his "religious" terms to confuse them with science terms already in use to make it seem more legitimate.
    – Chad
    Aug 2, 2012 at 19:23
  • @RobZ - Yes, measuring electrical resistance (galvanic skin response) is part of some lie detectors. MacGyver does it in the episode Slow Death ;) It's also used to measure physiological arousal, but Measuring arousal is ... not the same as measuring emotion, but is an important component of it.
    – Oliver_C
    Aug 2, 2012 at 19:37

Mark Bunker has an anti-Scientology blog, called Xenu TV. He links to a number of current affairs shows to suggest the e-meter is a scam

Tommy Davis, a senior Scientologist was interviewed by a doubting reporter.

The e-meter only measures resistance and the more in a trance you are the more "TA" is measured. Less involuntary actions like thoughts or twitching the more TA is gained. Most repetitive commands in auditing are done when they reach a "flat point" meaning no reaction, meaning hypnotised.

Volney Mathison who invented the e-meter sold it as a "self hypnosis machine". These are the booklets he wrote:

  • Super-Visualization: The Duplication Techniques of Applied Creative Energy, Volume 1 (1950)
  • Creative Image Therapy (1954)
  • Electropsychometry (1954 or 1955)
  • How to Achieve Past Life Recalls (1956) published by Mathison Electropsychometers
  • The Secret of the Lourdes Miracles Revealed (1956)
  • Practical Self-Hypnosis: How to Achieve and Effectively to Use Hypnosis without the Presence of an Operator (1957)
  • Space-Age Self-Hypnosis (1957)

For four years, from 1954 to 1958 while Hubbard failed to talk Mathison into selling him the patent rights to the E-meter, Hubbard discouraged the use of the E-meter in the process of auditing.

  • Welcome to Skeptics! This answer isn't terribly definitive. Much of the links are irrelevant. (Davis was interviewed? Mathison wrote some books? Why should we care? That doesn't answer the question.) Many of the other claims aren't referenced. (What is TA? WHo says it is measured by an e-meter? Who says Hubbard was talking to Mathison? Who says he failed? Who says he discouraged the use of E-meters? And why should we care?)
    – Oddthinking
    Aug 6, 2012 at 3:21
  • Trance is the opposite of being in stress. If the e-meter can accurately measure it, saving it provides a free stress test isn't a clear cut scam. Could you explain in a detail a bit more what aspect of it are scammy?
    – Christian
    Aug 6, 2012 at 12:35

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