Scientologies E-Meters: Studies on Effectiveness?

Definitely GQ, not GD. But I know how these things tend to drift… :rolleyes:

I’ve just been doing some reading on Scientology. Along the way, I find out about something called an “e-meter,” which critics say are basically “crude lie detectors.”

Apparently, the process goes like this. An auditor asks you questions about what’s bothering you while you are holding on to the e-meter. Supposedly, some of the things you are thinking while talking to the auditor cause the readout to spike, and the auditor adjusts his questions accordingly. (This comes from Wikipedia and some link I followed from there to “free zone scientology.”)

I didn’t find anything on what “accordingly” means in this context. But no matter, for the moment.

I’m wondering some stuff. Recent issues of SciAm and Discover have indicated that many psychiatrists are starting to rethink the validity of the notion of repression: Whereas, before now, most of them thought it was bunk scientifically speaking, now, many are starting to argue they are finding physiological correspondences to actual repression phenomena.

Okay, if they are right, then it seems to me very possible that something like a “lie detector” could well be used for therapeautic purposes!

If this is true, then it seems quite possible that, perhaps, even if only by accident, the scientologists may be partly on to something.

So my GQ is: Have there been any studies done on the use of e-meters in therapeautic contexts?


When the memory being “repressed” is in reality the little ghost of an alien who infests your body, I would hazard that science does not have much time for the claims and techniques of scientology.

Also that scientology holds psychiatry to be the greatest evil in the world, therefore intradisciplinary research is somewhat limited.

You could have saved an hour of reading with thirty minutes of South Park last night!

A caveman might think the reason the light bulb lights up when he hits the switch is that there’s a little demon running from the switch to the light and lighting it with a torch. Its a crazy explanation. But we don’t have to give credence to the explanation in order to see that the mechanism works–when the caveman hits the switch, the light goes on.

I’m not saying the scientologists are right, just speculating that in some small way, they may have accidentally stumbled onto something.

I’m not even saying that their e-meters actually “work” in any way. My GQ in my OP was precisely to ask whether or not they do–whether there have been any studies done regarding the use of e-meters or other “lie detector” type implements in therapeautic contexts.

By the way, I was thinking, not every auditor (I mean, there must be thousands of them, right?) could be that great of a cold reader. This lends credence to the possibility that use of e-meters actually is aiding them, somehow.

The relevance of this comment is unclear to me.


Actually, I did the reading because I saw that episode.


IIRC, when Hubbard first came out with the E-meter, experiments WERE done with it to find out if it would work as you propose, Frylock.

None of them worked-it’s all a bunch of bullshit.

Some have claimed that low-level auditing by a Scientologist actually does work, as it’s not that different from regular Freudian psychoanalysis.

However, unlike regular therapy, Scientologists are NOT bound by any doctor/patient confidentiality, and if you tell them embarrassing or potentially damaging information, they WILL use that information against you, in order to extort more money out of you. Even if you’re smart (or lucky) enough not to tell them any useful blackmail material, they will keep sending you bills for classes & auditing sessions you never received. It’s all a great big scam.

Kind of sad, because Dianetics could have some potential positive uses, if the method wasn’t abused by an organization that’s more corrupt and dangerous than the Bush Administration…

It’s also not just free-association psychoanalysis. They force you to go over and over your traumas or problems again and again, obsessing them, reliving them, etc. Think about it-does that sound like a good idea? Say you have a person who was molested as a child. By Dianetics logic, you’d have to go over and over the rape again and again, reliving it and describing it multiple times.

Doesn’t sound like it would help, to put it mildly.

More than you probably wanted to know about E-meters.

Summation: They’re bullshit. It’s basically just a sort of low-level brainwashing technique.

"It’s also not just free-association psychoanalysis. They force you to go over and over your traumas or problems again and again, obsessing them, reliving them, etc. Think about it-does that sound like a good idea? Say you have a person who was molested as a child. By Dianetics logic, you’d have to go over and over the rape again and again, reliving it and describing it multiple times.

Doesn’t sound like it would help, to put it mildly."

Actually it can, much of the distress we can experience with these kinds of issues is the constant work of trying not to think about the trauma.

Theories like EMDR and some other therapies work basically on the idea of trying to decouple the strong emotional experience with the memory of the traumatic event, and sometimes do this by reexposing the person to it, sometimes on a repetitive basis. For instance rewriting the event over and over, so it has less emotional impact.

So in theory there could be some level of usefulness in an e-meter as described, if it effectively identifies the response and then allows the person to desensitise to it, but Im not aware of anything like it being done in practise.

Really the obvious question would be how hard it is to identify that a given memory is distressing that it needs a lie detector though - the repressed memory aspect is the part most controversial and Id be fairly dubious about. Repressed memory treatment has a pretty dodgy track record in general. Basically theres always a huge risk of creating memory rather than identifying the actual ‘repressed’ memory, and Im not convinced a lie detector would help much with that.

Id need to read the articles being mentioned to see where they’re coming from with that part. Just because we can identify a ‘repressed’ response really does occur, doesnt mean we necessarily know how to treat it effectively or safely yet, identify whats caused it, or even if its useful to focus overmuch on them as part of treating a person who presents for therapy.

Theres nothing to suggest the e-meter idea is more effective than anything else in that regard, we dont even know if its really picking up repressed memories after all. It would seem much more likely that it offers a placebo effect than doing anything like that, which can be surprisingly powerful after all.


Scientologists within the Cult don’t learn anything about the modern practice of mental health treatment because they are convinced the ‘psychs’ are the cause of all evil in the world. They believe ‘psychs’ caused Nazisim, mental disease, crime, and anything else you could possibly imagine. The Cult periodically crapfloods the newsgroup alt.religion.scientology (a hangout of people critical of the Cult) with anti-‘psych’ spam. This has the dual effect of making the group very annoying for people without killfiles and making the Cult look like a bunch of fucking nutcases.

In the other direction, nobody learns anything about what the Cult does because the Cult is obsessively, destructively, paranoically secretive. The Xenu story is only available to the outside world because it became a piece of evidence in a lawsuit (google “Fishman affidavit”) and the same is true of everything else we know about Cult beliefs and practices.

There is the Free Zone, the Scientologists who practice the Tech (Dianetics and related Hubbard teachings) outside the Cult. I’m not sure how fanatical Free Zoners are about avoiding medicine and psychiatric help, and I suspect it varies by the person.

They didn’t stumble into anything. While drawing a little from some fairly dubious sources such as Aleister Crowley and General Semantics, it was mostly invented out of whole cloth, deliberately structured to suck money out of its adherents. It is essentially a pyramid scheme.

I don’t see what great “discovery” the Scientologists have unearthed.

According to the Wikipedia, the first lie detector test was conducted in 1935. This article states that the E-Meter’s first appearance was in the 1940’s. It also states the E-Meter works similarly to a galvanometer by detecting extremely small changes in the skin’s electrical conductvity (the Galvanic Skin Response). A lie detector also monitors the Galvanic skin response (as well as breathing and heart rate, hence the term “polygraph”).

So, I really don’t see why an “invention” made at least 5 years after the lie detector is so revolutionary. (Seems more as if L Ron Hubbard only stole someone else’s idea).

I don’t see how any of what you said in this post supports the first sentence of it. It is entirely possible for someone to stumble accidentally onto something useful while engaged in some entirely nonsensical activity.


My idea in the OP wasn’t that the e-meter itself is a “great discovery.”

My idea in the OP was, maybe it could turn out that something like a lie detector has therapeautic value, and if that’s the case, it’s kind of funny that the scientologists may already have stumbled onto this, entirely by accident, while pursuing all their other nonsense.


Frylock - Sorry for my misunderstanding your original posting.
I suppose my disdain for Scientologists prompted me to belittle anything they have “discovered”. :slight_smile:

Then again, since there were at least five years between the invention of the lie detector and the E-Meter, isn’t it possible that someone in the psychiatric field may have had thoughts about using the polygraph in therapy?
(As you may have noticed, I’m reluctant to give Scientologists any credit).

There’s several too many "maybe"s in your posts.

Do lie detectors have therapeutic value? Probably not. Nobody has yet proven that lie detectors can be reliability used to detect lies. That’s why use of them in court is limited to non-existent. Giving them any other function now is preposterous.

Nobody has yet proven that e-meters have any function or even any meaningful circuitry at all. Postulating that a fraudulent machine with imaginary functions might somehow accidentally work for some purpose its inventors don’t understand and didn’t set it up for is whimsy at best, and far more likely to be crackpotism at the first degree.

So, no. The scientologists did not stumble onto anything. There is no there there.

This is really an issue similar to creationism. Put sufficient references to the “controversy” in newspapers and magazines and people will think there really is a controversy, with two sides that are more or less equal, rather than science and loons. E-meters have the scientific credibility of creationism. Only the credulous who read nothing but popular notions of scientology as a religion can give credence to its apparatus. But there aren’t two equal sides. One side is sheer nonsense. It cannot be defended or used in an argument.

The other side is science.

Too many maybes for what?


I didn’t know that, thanks for the info. I thought they weren’t allowed in courts because they aren’t reliable enough–I didn’t know there is simply no evidence that they are reliable at all.

This I also didn’t know. I thought that, since the only thing against e-meters I found was comments like “critics equate them to crude lie detectors,” it must be that they are at least that: crude lie detectors, in the sense that they measure “galvanic skin response” or whatever its called.

Good thing I “postulated” nothing, then. A question is not a postulation.

You’ve shown (assuming your assertions are true) that there’s less reason than I initially thought to wonder whether they might not have accidentally stumbled onto something, but you haven’t shown to my satisfaction that “there’s no there there.” Especially since I’m not intending to put forth a full blown theory along with a research program. It was just a funny idea I thought of, and I wanted to know what facts can be adduced in its support and also in order to disconfirm it.

The standard of evidence for “funny ideas I thought of” is far less than the one you seem to be holding (your conception of) me to.

Your comments are appreciated, thanks.


Here’s what I don’t understand.

When you have a funny idea about two technologies you know nothing about, and every person responds by telling you that your idea just won’t fly:

why keep arguing for it?