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The answer by @Bevan to this question made me wonder: how exactly does the paralyzing device used by Obadiah work ?

I'll take the liberty of re-using his screenshot here. enter image description here

As mentioned in the above question and answers, this is seen used in the first Iron Man movie. It obviously operates in a 'sonic' way, as Obadiah uses some kind of noise-cancelling ear plugs if you will, so he is not affected by it. But how can the device have such a big effect ? I can understand that sound can make you very uncomfortable, but weakening and disabling a person (for a prolonged time) entirely ... ?

The black, vein-like stuff that appears on Tony's face, I'll just take as extra dramatic effect for cinematic purposes.

Although I'm primarily familiar with the movies' canon, any other canon will do as well.

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Militaries and businesses have been experimenting with sound based weapons for years. Some are even already in use commercially, such as those used by some cruise ship lines to ward of pirates. There are various effects that have been demonstrated to be possible, such as one device that works by operating at a frequency that causes a person's eyeballs to vibrate making their vision blurry and distorted. There are others that can effectively paralyze people, but most "real world" versions currently do that by causing the person excruciating pain. It's not beyond the realm of reality that a less painful, but still effective version could be developed in the near future.

See here and here for more on these concepts.

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The devices used by cruise ships (and in many other situations) is the LRAD, a directed-sound device designed to be intolerably loud to anyone in front of it while being perfectly safe to the guy right behind it. The only physical effects the device has, however, is pain based on the extreme sound pressure levels. –  KeithS Nov 14 '12 at 21:13
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I think the basic idea of the Iron Man device is that some particular frequency or combination of them will cause a disruption in the brain that causes the person's muscles to tense uncontrollably while they are exposed to the sound, and for a short period thereafter (hence the dark lines; those are veins sticking out as every muscle in the body tenses to the limit). It's just plausible enough to be believable, but the idea's also simple enough that someone must have tried it and determined it doesn't work.

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