Monday, October 24, 2011

Quack of the Month: Brain Gym

Earlier this month, a friend of mine was appalled to discover that her daughters' preschool had spent her tuition dollars having its teachers certified to teach a form of applied kinesiology known as Brain Gym. Promoters of Brain Gym say it is beneficial for all people of all ages, and many believe it has special benefits to people with special needs, including autism. Cue my investigation on the topic.

This child is doing a "Cross Crawl"

Like many pseudoscientific cure-alls, Brain Gym starts from a sensible idea, and then it goes waaaay too far. The sensible starting idea is that exercising the body is good for the brain, and that including physical activity in a child's day improves his or her academic performance. I'm down with that.

Where they go too far is their assertion that their set of 26 specific postures and movements will help develop neural pathways to connect the right and left hemispheres of the brain and increase the flow of "electromagnetic energy" throughout the body. For example, did you know there are brain buttons just under your collar bone? This video will show you how to push them to, um, turn on your brain. Stick around for the whole video and the lovely Australian lady will also demonstrate how to do an Energy Yawn.

For one thing, that whole left brain/right brain separation idea is a myth. You use neurons from all over your head at the same time.

Second, no truly scientific studies have been done on Brain Gym; the studies that Brain Gym's founders cite as proof of their accomplishments were self-published and not replicated by impartial researchers. As it says on the Brain Gym website's FAQ page, "The work is based upon empirical experience rather than neurological research." I have seen no proof that these specific exercises have any more benefit than playing tag or jumping rope.

Now, I don't know that Brain Gym would do a kid any harm, aside from filling her head with pseudoscience and misleading her about how her brain actually works. But Brain Gym is a business. A business that thrives on licensing fees from thousands of schools and preschools and therapy providers. According to a local instructor with whom I emailed, practitioners are sub-licensed to teach Brain Gym (at a cost of $200/year) and return 10% of their profits to the Educational Kinesiology Foundation (Edu K). The licensing process involves a significant investment of time and money: 200 hours of coursework (at around $20 per hour, this comes to thousands of dollars), six private consultations from a licensed Brain Gym instructor, and 15 case studies.

I'm exhausted just thinking about it.

Perhaps it's time for an Energy Yawn.

Recommended further reading: The Skeptic's Dictionary

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