Research Myth 7: Brain Gym


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John Dabell

I trained as a primary school teacher 25 years ago, starting my career in London and then I taught in a range of schools in the Midlands. In between teaching jobs, I worked as an Ofsted inspector (no hate mail please!), national in-service provider, project...
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Can Brain Gym lead to optimal learning?

In a brilliant article, Charlie Brooker once warned us to, “Man the lifeboats, the idiots are winning.” Brain Gym is a classic piece of snake oil in education that has been mis-sold to thousands of schools and has been peddled by many in order to cash in on the neuroscience gold rush.

It has “bad science” written all over it “with a scientific explanatory framework that is barkingly out to lunch.”

Created by Paul and Gail Dennison in the 1980s, Brain Gym is the shop-front name for what they call Education Kinesiology or Edu-K. Brain Gym is a movement based programme based on the idea that  moving leads to optimal learning and “we empower all ages to reclaim the joy of living.”

The founders claim that laying brain-training games can help improve your memory, concentration or intelligence and the Brain Gym website makes lots of grand statements but these are backed by zero evidence.

Brain Gym do cite evidence on their site but the research they drew on has been widely discredited.

Of the few published studies one involved four participants, one of whom was the author of the study and the others were published in a journal that required the authors to pay for publication.

Another study had severe methodological failings. There is no evidence that Brain Gym improves academic skills, listening and thinking skills, or learning disability deficits (Hyatt, 2007)

Watson and Kelso (2014) found Brain Gym “does not produce clear and substantial differences in academic engagement” but “even with the inadequacy of empirical support, Brain Gym is still an often promoted intervention” and “those who buy into the program are either children who naively assume their teachers know what they are doing or teachers who are bamboozled by the pseudoscientific jargon or seduced by charismatic and enthusiastic believers.” (Carroll 2009)

Verdict:

Read the full Research Myths series.


3 thoughts on “Research Myth 7: Brain Gym

  1. This negative diatribe is insulting to the Brain Gym community and the founders of Brain Gym. I used Brain Gym in my grade one classroom for years. It was simple effective and fun. I have concrete written examples of results of the use of Brain Gym. A few minutes of using Brain Gym assisted children to improve behavior. Pencil to paper activities showed improvement and successes within a few minutes which continued over days and months. The persons who speak against Brain Gym are lacking in the knowledge and use of Brain Gym. As a teacher who has applied Brain Gym with children I recommend that teachers in training receive Brain Gym instruction before they are certified. The use of Brain Gym gives profound insight into individual learning and enhances the ability to be successful.

    1. Anecdotal observations are not evidence of anything. Observations are anything but concrete if they have not been carried out objectively, usually by following a carefully-developed and peer-reviewed protocol which is designed to prevent the inherent bias prevalent in each of us. For example, measuring performance objectively using validated and reliable outcome measures, preferably by someone who is oblivious as to any intervention that children have and haven’t been subjected. As Richard Feynman said, The first principle is that you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool.

      The ‘negative diatribe’ describes the evidence that has been done on Brain Gym – it is of poor quality that, like your own observations, tells us nothing about the efficacy of Brain Gym. Please do read what has been suggested in theoretical support of Brain Gym, and how the research is flawed. Some of it is laughable.

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