BrainGym® – Success without Science!
Sorry, believers. I apologize in advance, because I know that people who are sold on BrainGym® can become quite upset when it’s criticized. After all, it works! And there’s research!
But what is really working? We don’t know, because there is no peer-reviewed scientific research supporting the theories.
Founder Paul Dennison makes claims for how and why BrainGym® “works,” but backs away from supporting those claims by saying, “We’ll leave the explanations to the experts.” (You can hear this for yourself in a video further down.)
My favorite: The absence of control groups in the “studies” is explained away on moral grounds: It would be wrong to withhold the benefits of BrainGym® from any of the children.
What’s needed is a double-blind study, with good sample size, that specifically isolates the BrainGym exercises as variables (having a control group perform other carefully-defined exercises). Current research is a long, long way from that.
Is there a neuroscientist in the house?
A leading critic of BrainGym® is Dr. Ben Goldacre, a British physician who has been pointing out “Bad Science” for over a decade in his blog, column in the Guardian, and best-selling books. I’ve linked to several of his columns in Part I of this topic, but I want to highlight his series of articles on BrainGym.® (It might have been a shorter series if not for the backlash he received at the outset.)
Lest you dismiss Goldacre as a cynic with an ax to grind (and books to sell), know that he isn’t alone in his views.
• Guardian columnist Phillip Beagle backs him up with, “Keep your pupils stretched and watered.”
• Tracing it to its roots in the old Psychomotor Patterning described above, Skepdic.com further discredits the studies purported to support BrainGym®’s claims.
• Sara Bernard urges using standards of proof in “Neuro Myths: Separating Fact and Fiction in Brain-Based Learning” on Edutopia.
• (Bernard quotes Robert Sylwester, Emeritus Professor of Education at the University of Oregon, dismissing the term “brain-based learning” wryly: “As if it were kidney-based learning last year, and now it’s brain based.”).
• In Brain Gym Makes Me Sad, educator David Colarusso blogs about dipping his toe into BrainGym. “We shouldn’t have teachers teaching students the scientific method in one lesson then spouting pseudoscience in the next,” he says.
• Award for the cleverest title goes to: Got a brain, Jim? Then you don’t need Brain Gym!
• Australian neuroscientists criticized Brain Gym® early this year.
• Also from this year is an overview in Rational Wiki.
• For a dose of truth (including about the “crossing the midline” claims) read “Ask a Neuroscientist: How to Train Your Brain” on Standford Neuroblog by Erica Seigneur.
Specifically . . .
Perhaps the cleanest refutation of Brain Gym®’s claims comes from Sense About Science. Here you can read neuroscientists’ responses to specific myths. For example:
According to Brain Gym:
“The student lightly touches the