Sunday, December 6, 2015

#1537: Paul & Gail Dennison

Brain Gym® is a set of movement activities – “crawling, drawing, tracing symbols in the air, yawning, and drinking water” – that, according to their website, will help children, adults, and seniors to: “[l]earn ANYTHING faster and more easily, [p]erform better at sports, [b]e more focused and organized, [s]tart and finish projects with ease, [o]vercome learning challenges, [and r]each new levels of excellence.” It does so because it “[b]uilds, enhances or restores natural neural pathways in the body and brain to assist natural learning,” and features excercises that are e.g. supposed to improve blood circulation in certain parts of the brain (in particular, rocking your head back and forth will get more blood to your frontal lobes “for greater comprehension and rational thinking”). For instance, the exercise “hook-ups” is supposed to “shift electrical energy from the survival centers in the hindbrain to the reasoning centers in the midbrain and neocortex, thus activating hemispheric integration … the tongue pressing into the roof of the mouth stimulates the limbic system for emotional processing in concert with more refined reasoning in the frontal lobes.” That’s the kind of stuff the word “technobabble” was invented to describe.

Brain Gym was developed in the 1980s by Paul and Gail Dennison, who called it “educational kinesiology” (or “Edu-K”), and it is pseudoscientific drivel. In fact, Brain Gym is a version of applied kinesiology, a familiar branch of rank woo, and may perhaps be described as a type of “alternative chiropractics”. The practitioners have, predictably enough, rejected the conclusions of double-blind randomized tests of their work because the tests consistently show AK does not work since that conflicts with what they have convinced themselves is correct based on no evidence or anecdotal results that may easily be explained by well-known phenomena such as ideomotor responses). 

That said, Brain Gym has an international market and remains pretty popular – even in the US it continues to be a (justified) source of fear for elementary school kids because it is loved by many of their teachers. And the Educational Kinesiology Foundation (Ventura, California) does cite a lot of research, most of it “academic papers” published in Brain Gym’s own journal that you, too, can read if you pay for them. Several of the papers appear to concern work with learning-disabled students and nebulous suggestions of positive results in students with ADD. The abstracts give little detail about methods or results, however, and it is pretty telling that the only publicly available studies show no effect whatsoever. One of their own studies did, admittedly, hypothesize “that Brain Gym movements can eliminate or greatly ameliorate the symptoms of hyperactivity, learning disabilities, Attention Deficit Disorder, emotional handicaps and even Fetal Alcohol Syndrome,” another that it improved hearing. It doesn’t.

As much other pseudoscience Brain Gym relies on giving the false appearance of being based on sound neuroscience. It is, however, firmly based on refuted ideas about the brain (see here for details), such as motor patterning and perceptual-motor training as an academic intervention.

There is a good overview here (we used that one extensively for this entry).

Diagnosis: Pure bullshit, and the Dennisons remain influential. Their activities are hardly harmful (though I wager there are plenty of kids in school systems around the US who are inclined to disagree), but it still feels pretty iffy when people use bullshit like this to make money.

1 comment:

  1. i have seen this before back in the 1960s. I have a physical disability which my parents bought into garbage like this saying that it would make my disability better. It did nothng!!!