By |Published On: August 24th, 2023|Categories: Media Psychology, Pam Rutledge, School of Psychology, Social Media|

Celebrity endorsements change product desirability but do not guarantee results.


  • Celebrity endorsements enhance perceptions about product desirability but are not evidence for efficacy.
  • A placebo effect can impact well-being, even if an intervention can’t be “clinically proven” to work.
  • Any tools that increase our mindfulness and self-awareness can help decrease stress.

Nothing raises the visibility of a product faster than seeing it on a celebrity. When Meghan Markle was photographed wearing a NuCalm stress patch, it got a lot of attention on social media and the popular press.

Many theories circulated about why Markle was wearing the patch, but aside from all that speculation, it raises obvious questions about the patch itself. What is it, and does it work? Many people will take a photo of the patch-wearing Markle as evidence of its therapeutic efficacy. However, in this era of misinformation and sponcon, it’s good to take a closer look.

As a media psychologist with positive psychology leanings, I’m always interested in how people can use technology to promote wellness and healthy behaviors. My starting point was the NuCalm website.

It is full of complicated, jargon-intensive text, most related to how the body functions, not how the patch works. I am always concerned when explanations seem intentionally complex and full of terms most people wouldn’t know. Big words are not a reliable way to validate a product, no matter how scientific they sound (e.g., Faraday bag, Tesla coil, or biosignal processing disc).

I’m also bothered by claims of “works every time.” These are problematic, as every researcher knows. Given the vast range of individual contexts and differences, it is implausible that anything will work every time in empirical research.

That’s why we use statistics to predict research outcomes. The textual hyperbole does not mean the NuCalm patch doesn’t work, but it suggests having a healthy skepticism.

Taking a Closer Look: Marketing or Science?

The NuCalm effect on stress, sleep, etc., is attributed to a combination of the mobile app recordings, the patch, headphones, and an eye mask. The previous iterations of the product relied on either GABA supplements or cream in combination with electrical stimulation.

GABA is the chief inhibitory neurotransmitter in the central nervous system, and its main job is calming the central nervous system. As crucial as GABA is to things like stress, sleep, and appetite, there is no consistent evidence that taking GABA supplements works, and positive results may be from other factors, including the placebo effect (Boonstra et al., 2015).

The theoretical approach for this anti-stress intervention is based on energy medicine and acupuncture meridians. (The latter is also a form of energy medicine in that acupuncture is based on the flow of Qi as a vital energy or life force, as are things like Reiki.) These treatment forms are considered alternative and complementary medicine (CAM).

While there are many advocates, the empirical evidence remains inconclusive, perhaps due to the many CAM therapies, from bright-light therapy and yoga to dietary supplements, the difficulties of conducting controlled randomized trials, and the wide range of physical and mental health applications (Cutler et al., 2023). Many CAM therapies also have links to spiritual practices and beliefs, which further muddies the scientific waters.

Evidence vs. Experience

While there may not be empirical evidence, bodies are complicated, and what goes on in our brains has been consistently linked with what is experienced by our bodies. A device or supplement—if not harmful—can impact attitudes, beliefs, and emotions, creating a placebo effect. There is also an increasing awareness of the impact of mental health, optimism, and resilience on physical healing, such as among surgical patients (Josephs et al., 2023).

Just taking steps toward stress reduction symbolically, such as wearing an anti-stress patch, may actually reduce stress by increasing self-efficacy and hope. Is this attributable to the patch? Does the wearer care?

When interventions require a monetary investment, the price often increases psychological investment in the outcome, increasing positive perceptions. The value of something with no cost is very little (as every beginning therapist learns.)

Conversely, no one likes to spend money and get nothing in return. Therefore, the outcomes can also be influenced by our innate cognitive biases and the tendency to be more sensitive to things that confirm our beliefs or expectations to maintain cognitive consonance. Social influence also matters.

Perceived popularity validates the product, elevating its desirability and assumed value. This is especially true when a product is seemingly endorsed by “important” people (like celebrities). Sometimes, the value is independent of the product and rests in social identity or emotional parasocial attachment to a celebrity. Were Air Jordans really better basketball shoes, or was it powerful to “Be like Mike?”

There are a lot of unknowns in science and medicine. People can (and do) manage stress in many different ways. As long as a device or practice isn’t harmful, taking some action is better than no action as long as expectations are in check. Over-investing, either financially or psychologically, can result in stress-increasing outcomes, such as feeling manipulated, cheated, or ashamed of being taken in or just running out of money.

Reducing Stress Through Mindfulness

Similar to other apps and approaches, the NuCalm system includes activities that would increase mindfulness, such as listening to calming music, any one of a number of apps that play binaural beats to influence brain wave frequencies, or guided relaxation and meditations. Covering your eyes and using headphones eliminates outside distractions, increasing intention and focus. In this case, the patch system is unlikely to cause any harm unless it is a financial burden or the hyperbolizing of the benefits by creating unachievable expectations.

There are many ways to mitigate stress without resorting to a patch, especially one that requires a subscription or has time-limited potency. Exercise can reduce stress by increasing well-being and feel-good neurotransmitters like endorphins. Being healthier also contributes to your resilience and ability to manage stress.

Other approaches include breathing exercises, meditation, and relaxation practices. The repetition of a mantra to focus or guide attention can help release tension, as can listening to peaceful music. From a cognitive therapeutic perspective, stress can also be mitigated by consciously recognizing belief patterns and rumination and reframing problems and thoughts from dire to manageable, including emphasizing the similarity between anxiety and excitement.

Similarly, focusing on positive emotions by emphasizing appreciation and gratitude can improve mood and relieve stress.

The nice thing about non-pharmaceutical stress reduction techniques is that they are additive and mutually reinforcing. We can combine reframing, exercise, and mindfulness and find the one or combination that works best for each of us.

The bottom line: Anything that helps us to deal with stress and take a moment and a breath, whether patches, crystals, mantras, or mobile apps, is a good thing.

This article also appeared on


Boonstra, E., de Kleijn, R., Colzato, L. S., Alkemade, A., Forstmann, B. U., & Nieuwenhuis, S. (2015). Neurotransmitters as food supplements: the effects of GABA on brain and behavior [Mini Review]. Frontiers in Psychology, 6

Cutler, J. B. R., Pane, O., Panesar, S. K., Updike, W., & Moore, T. R. (2023). Treatment of Mood and Depressive Disorders With Complementary and Alternative Medicine: Efficacy Review. Journal of Midwifery & Women’s Health, 68(4), 421-429.

Josephs, C. A., Shaffer, V. O., & Kucera, W. B. (2023). Impact of Mental Health on General Surgery Patients and Strategies to Improve Outcomes. The American Surgeon™, 89(6), 2636-2643.

About the Author: Pam Rutledge

Pamela Rutledge, PhD, is a scholar-practitioner, integrating her expertise in media psychology with 20+ years as a media producer. A member of the faculty at Fielding Graduate University since 2008, Dr. Rutledge teaches in the areas of brand psychology, audience engagement and narrative meaning. Dr. Rutledge consults with entertainment companies, such as 20th Century Fox Films and Warner Bros., on data strategies and audience narratives. Dr. Rutledge has published both academic and popular work, including a text on positive psychology and psychological appeal for fans of the Twilight Saga and resilience in the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. She has also written book chapters on meaning-making and fandom, transmedia narrative engagement, and positive media psychology. She authors “Positively Media” for Psychology Today and is also a frequent expert source on media use and popular culture for media outlets such as The NY Times, The BBC World and ABC News. She holds a PhD and an MBA.

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