Brain Gym, Anyone? I Need Teachers…

February 21st, 2006 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, brain gym | 140 Comments »

I wonder if anybody remembers Brain Gym? I wrote about them a couple of times in 2003 (links below). They’re a strange bunch who seem to get into lots of UK state schools at the taxpayers expense, where they share pearls of wisdom such as: “Focus is the ability to coordinate the back and front areas of the brain…Centering is the ability to coordinate the top and bottom areas of the brain… Brain Gym movements interconnect the brain in these dimensions.”

There’s not a lot I could get hold of publicly, so I was relying on moles. One teacher who was horrified to find it in his school told me: “Brain Gym appears to comprise a series of simple hand-eye coordination tasks which allegedly improve learning. Before doing these tasks, children are required to take a swig of water and hold it in their mouths for a few seconds until the teacher tells them they can swallow. When I asked why, the teacher, who had been sent on a Brain Gym course by the school, informed me that the water was partially absorbed through the roof of the children’s mouths and was absorbed by the brain, improving learning.”

Another teacher was told by the Brain Gym instructor in a UK state school that after watching telly your brain goes to sleep for eight hours: “Very precise about that, she was. But don’t worry, as long as you sit with your ankles crossed and make a funny shape with your hands this will ‘protect you from the electro-magnetic rays’. She was even kind enough to post me the handouts detailing the Pace [positive-active-clear-energetic] which ‘increases and balances electrical energy to the neocortex _ allowing reason rather than reaction (choice)’ and ‘increases polarity across cell membranes for more efficient thought processing’.”

The hand out also featured a rather excellent exercise called “Brain Buttons”: “While holding the navel area with one hand, rub with the thumb and finger of other on hollow areas just below the collar bone on each side of the sternum.” Why? Because, you heartless cynics, “buttons above carotid artery supply fresh oxygenated blood to brain, helps lung/brain function … and brings attention to gravitational centre of body.”

Anyway, the trouble is, all this dressed up pseudoscience is peddled to the children too, by their teachers, science teachers too, as fact. One kid wrote in triumphantly to Bad Science at the time to say: “I’d like to submit the revision advice of my teacher. She claims that because the brain works by transmitting electricity through water, drinking more water will improve mental performance.”

Anyway, I just re-read my notes on the subject and got all annoyed by the dreadful injustice of it all all over again, hence the call to arms: I need more field reports on these people.

Are you a teacher? Have you encountered Brain Gym in UK schools? Do you know anyone who has? Are you a cheeky schoolkid? Please do ask around, it’s in a very good cause, you can email me assured of anonymity, or post below, to your taste. I’m chasing up a few leads, but I need… more… data…

Brain Gym.

Tell your friends.

If you like what I do, and you want me to do more, you can: buy my books Bad Science and Bad Pharma, give them to your friends, put them on your reading list, employ me to do a talk, or tweet this article to your friends. Thanks! ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

140 Responses

  1. crana said,

    February 21, 2006 at 12:51 am

    Try a post on the TES forums… I think you will find lots of willing reporters!

  2. raygirvan said,

    February 21, 2006 at 1:23 am

    Some examples from Google: Markland Hill Primary School, Bolton; Hungerford Primary School; Ranvilles Infant School, Fareham, Hants; and Greenfields School, Northampton.

    Googling “brain gym” shows how much this system has become entrenched officially via local government training guides and the like. For example, you find lots of hits on the government Department for Education and Skills site. Or there’s Cheshire County Council and Kirklees County Council.

  3. Ben Goldacre said,

    February 21, 2006 at 1:32 am

    ray: is there anything you’re not very good at?

  4. Ben Goldacre said,

    February 21, 2006 at 2:14 am

    this pdf from cheshire county council is particularly humorous:

  5. Mark Gould said,

    February 21, 2006 at 8:17 am

    An extract from that PDF: “As it is a major component of blood, water is vital for transporting oxygen to the brain. You need to replace the water which is constantly being lost. Children need between about half to one and a half litres a day.”

    Even for a lawyer those statements are mind-boggling. Has the nature of blood changed in the 20+ years since I did A-level Biology? Is haemoglobin no longer the oxygen transporting component?

    As for the volume of water each child needs — isn’t that rather a large (and therefore meaningless) range? Also, my understanding is that this constant harping on about water ingestion (in children and adults) is based on a misconception about fluid needs and ignores the water that comes from other sources in the diet — with possibly dangerous consequences. (Am I wrong about that?)

  6. Sockatume said,

    February 21, 2006 at 9:19 am

    I thought I couldn’t get any more angry about nonsense like this, but then they go and use comic sans as the font in the material.

    I think my faith in the human race just died. Again.

  7. CB said,

    February 21, 2006 at 9:27 am

    half a litre? thats not very much is it. I should think that most people can get exactly the amount of water they need by the miraculous warning mechanism of ‘being thirsty’ and then ‘drinking’.

  8. Joe Otten said,

    February 21, 2006 at 9:38 am

    Drinking water and moving your arms seems pretty harmless at least. This does sound familiar, I think my daughter has done something like it.

    Here’s the thing. A beginning-of-lesson ritual is likely to be useful in demarcating play from work, settling down the children, etc. If they are told that it is a brain gym, a placebo effect is quite plausible.

    If there are consultants peddling new age twaddle, of course that should be stopped, but overall this sounds pretty harmless.

  9. Ben George said,

    February 21, 2006 at 9:59 am

    My girlfriend’s mum works in a primary school and is always going on about ‘brain gym’. I always assumed it was something brought into their school by one of the teachers who does Yoga or something similar (I can see how relaxing kids right after lunch can be good for their learning). I never realised that it has a whole ‘scientific’ grounging and is wide spread throughout schools.

    Another thing they do at this school (which I believe was introduced by one of the teachers) is ‘breathing colours’ – take a deep breath of yellow and you will feel relaxed.

  10. Alan Harrison said,

    February 21, 2006 at 10:04 am

    I think encouraging children to drink more water is mostly good, teaching them to cross their legs to protect against rays from the TV and rubbing your neck to bring “attention to your gravitational centre” is bad. If my little girl (in a few years) comes home telling me I should hold water in my mouth before swallowing to improve brain function I shall go see the head.

  11. pv said,

    February 21, 2006 at 10:09 am

    More water than what? I presume that, if drinking more water improves mental performance, it will reach optimum performance at the point of drowning.
    Would salt water be best for this procedure?

  12. andy brown said,

    February 21, 2006 at 10:37 am

    Hi Ben – I think i was the person to write to you about this originally !

    I’m now a 3rd year psychology phd student, and have done a lecture on brain gym to undergraduates – i can send you the powerpoint slides if you like. I’ve done a bit of research into it – at the very least, it would mean that you wouldn’t have to fork out money for the teacher’s handbook like i did just to see the HILARIOUS brain drawings and accompanying descriptions…
    best wishes
    Andy Brown
    Dept of Psychology
    University of Sheffield

  13. Delster said,

    February 21, 2006 at 10:38 am

    Joe, post 8.

    harmless….. except for the fact that it’s taking time out of the day plus money is being spent on sending teachers on courses to learn this stuff…. which they then pass onto their pupils as fact. So money down drain and children taught incorrect “facts”

    CB post 7…. Thirsty?? something that useful couldn’t possibly have “Evolved” by chance…. that must be proof that we were designed by someting! 😉

  14. Delster said,

    February 21, 2006 at 10:46 am

    now i’m worried…. just been and had a look at that staffroom link from post one…. i just hope some of those people are not teaching english… their spelling is even worse than mine!

  15. tom p said,

    February 21, 2006 at 11:00 am

    If it weren’t for the pseudoscientific gibberish, something like this could be quite useful.
    Spending a short time actively focussing your mind on the task ahead is very heplful if you want to acheive optimum performance, look at athletes before a race a jump or a throw, or Jonny Wilkinson just prior to kicking a penalty.

  16. jk said,

    February 21, 2006 at 11:00 am

    There are several problems with Brain Gym. One is that it falls into the large and upsetting category of therapies and educational practices that are not based on a conventional evidence base, but rather involve an expensive subscription to a kind of club. These clubs then position the member as “special” because they have access to more, better and different knowledge than the silly cynics who are so manacled by their mainsteam pretensions of empirical integrity. Examples include Brain Gym and EMDR, but there’s a long history of this kind of thing going back to Mesmer and beyond.

    In this sense Brain Gym can be seen as a worthy target for rational public debate because it traduces well-meaning teachers and costs a lot of money. Its so-called evidence base consistes of self-published research, and the only studies I can find in peer-reviewed journals suggest that *any* intra-class exercise program is equally effective at slightly improving some measures of performance. Though note that here we are talking about things like reaction time, not the understanding and remembering of more abstract conceptual material. The costs of Brain Gym training are high relative to state school budgets, and it seems clear that money could be better spent on other activities.

    However, there is another, more serious problem with Brian Gym, and that is that it involves lying to children. As Richard Dawkins recently pointed out in his “come and fatwa me” TV program, children are predisposed to learning about the world from adults. They believe what we tell them. How are they meant to make sense of the world if the same person in the same classroom teaches them on the one hand that water is absorbed through the gut and enters the bloodstream, and on the other that it is somehow (magically) taken directly from the mouth to the brain? This is just one example of the pseudo-neuroscientific gobbledegook they use, it gets much worse. The old chestnut of cross-hemispheric synchrony is dragged up, and why stop at one brain axis when you can have all three – up-down and front-back brain also need synchronising with a bit of hopping and rubbing the tummy.

    I am fucking upset about Brain Gym. I’m a neuroscientist, a psychologist and a university teacher. Kids coming through into undergrad courses these days are not too hot at basic science. I’m not old enough to say whether things have got worse, but it would seem so from talking to older colleagues and from the recent news that universities are running remedial courses for 1st years to get them up to undergrad learning level. Brain Gym to me symbolises just what’s wrong with contemporary teaching practices, and if any hum.grad. teachers want to disagree, ask yourselves why expensive private schools consider GSCE’s too easy.

    Ben, I am watching with baited breath.

  17. jk said,

    February 21, 2006 at 11:07 am

    Andy (post 12): Any chance I could see those brain diagrams? I couldn’t bring myself to pay for their materials but I’d love to have ammo in my campaign to prevent school passing this nonsense on to my kids!

  18. Chris Tregenza said,

    February 21, 2006 at 11:48 am

    At the core of any legend there is a nugget of truth and so it is with Brain Gym.

    To find that nugget we have to strip away the rubbish that is gained, chinese whisper style, in the retelling and go back to the source. In this case Brain Gym Teacher’s Edition. Whilst this does contain advice on drinking water and ‘buttons’ the bulk of the guide focuses on physical movement where the science is more reliable.

    The two questions that we should ask are:

    a) does any movement aid educational achievement?

    b) do the specific movements promoted by Brain Gym aid educational achievements?

    What has movement got to do with learning? The area of education were movement is most often promoted is in learning difficulties like dyslexia and ADHD. Here there is evidence of a link between poor coordination and learning problems. One leading research, Dr Martha Denckla has been publishing work in this area for over 28 years. Numerous studies such as “Comparison of Deficits in Cognitive and Motor Skills among Children with Dyslexia” [ PDF ] have found a strong correlation between poor motor skills and poor academic achievement. Further evidence comes from stroke victims and how damage to the cerebellum (the motor control area of the brain) impacts on cognitive abilities.

    But as we all know a correlation does not prove cause & effect nor does it mean that training motor skills will improve academic ability. Proving movement does help is difficult because the only people researching this are companies with products to sell, such as Brain Gym. Which brings us to the second question, do the specific movements promoted by Brain Gym aid educational achievements?

    There is evidence that Brain Gym has a short term effect ( Effect of educational kinesiology upon simple response times and choice response times) and some evidence it can help spelling over a longer period ( Can Adding Movement to Learning Improve the Classroom Environment? ) and on comprehension and reading ( Brain Gym: A Real Cognitive Workout, or Simply Food for Thought [ PDF ] ).

    Brain Gym offer a comprehensive document summerising research [ PDF ] though it is worth noting that a number of the papers were published in an in-house journal and not an independent peer-review publication.

    The bottom line is that there is no clear cut proof that movement in general or Brain Gym specifically contributes to academic achievement but there is enough independent evidence to give the idea plausibility.

    DISCLAIMER: I run Myomancy, a blog focusing on learning difficulties and cerebellum based treatments such as Brain Gym. Some of the links above lead to my website.

  19. andy brown said,

    February 21, 2006 at 12:30 pm

    Hi JK,
    coming right up – will send a few slides through.
    I tried to get my department to send me on a brain gym course for a laugh, but the basic course is something like £250 from what i remember ! I’m giving the lecture again in a few weeks – i will be sure to include some new ammo from this thread !

    of *course* it works, by the way, for all the reasons listed here. it’s fun, they’re allowed to drink in class, and run around a bit. There is also massive scope for cognitive bias in the teachers to selectively see things as an improvement, and indeed to react positively to improivement and therefore accentuate it.

    I also have the official Brain Gym pack of evidence, by the way.

    It consists of

    11 qualitative reports

    21 quasi experiments (mostly with no control groups)

    10 ‘experiments’. 9 of these are published in that esteemed journal all men of science subscribe to, The Brain Gym Journal.

    The remaining experiment is a simple reaction time experiment, and was published in Perceptual and Motor Skills (impact factor 0.3).

    ‘experimental’ populations covered in the pack include

    children with ADHD
    normal children in a simple response times experiment (only peer reviewed paper)
    ‘learning disabled’ children
    children with ‘Emotional handicaps’
    children with Foetal alcohol syndrome
    tests which improve hearing in normal children
    Alzheimer’s patients
    Insurance salesmen

    I’d forgotten just how cross all this made me !!!

  20. pv said,

    February 21, 2006 at 12:54 pm

    I’d never heard of Brain Gym before reading about it here. It sounds very much like some of the dodgy stuff management consultants used to peddle to companies during the eighties and early nineties, to improve staff performance. Given its apparent closer relationship to voodoo rather than any real science maybe it should be condemned as Brain Dead.
    I’m certainly with jk when it comes to taking a dim view of teachers and education authorities lying to children. I’d say that was a form of abuse and in no way harmless.

  21. pv said,

    February 21, 2006 at 12:58 pm

    Did I say Brain Dead? I meant Brain Washing.
    I thought this could be their new slogan: “It’s a brain. But not as we know it, Gym”.

  22. AitchJay said,

    February 21, 2006 at 1:22 pm

    There’s a brain, gym, but not as we know it..

    Did anyone notice the ad for braingym at the top of the comments?
    That’s too good..

  23. AndrewT said,

    February 21, 2006 at 1:30 pm

    indeed, i clicked on said link
    “Fact 1: Your brain’s performance levels and overall mental power is largely governed by your state of mind, which is determined by your brainwaves.

    Fact 2: Science has uncovered which brainwaves create peak performance mental states for learning, thinking, studying & virtually every mental task.

    Fact 3: Listening to iMusic, an advanced acoustic technology, automatically dials your brain into a peak performance state. Just push play for instant results! ”

    Its almost 3 articles in one in that advert: nonsense about brainwaves, general misuse of the word science and audiophilia all rolled in to one.

  24. Ben Goldacre said,

    February 21, 2006 at 1:34 pm


    i’d love the powerpoint presentation.

    is the pack you have the “published research” that you have to pay brain gym $25 for, featuring experiments that were only published in the brain gym journal? i’d love to get hold of those, it’s always fun to see why people decided to keep groundbreaking results out of proper journals. obviously sending something that huge is a pain, i can paypal you postage and try and return them?

    incidentally, just to be clear, i think the real danger here is the intellectual pollution, i’m sure a few little exercises in class is a lovely way to spend your time.

  25. Mork said,

    February 21, 2006 at 2:04 pm

    “I’d like to submit the revision advice of my teacher. She claims that because the brain works by transmitting electricity through water, drinking more water will improve mental performance.”

    Clearly, this teacher was not paying attention. As any fule kno water helps you work better because water contains oxygen which aids the brain. At least this is what my wife was told at Brane Jim training.

  26. jk said,

    February 21, 2006 at 4:07 pm

    Fantastic stuff Andy, thankyou. I’m pressing my tongue into the roof of my mouth now, so my limbic system is really energised, I’m thinking of an X to get all four corners of my brain working and I’m sure I’ll stop being so cynical if I can only shift some of that electrical activity forwards.

    The drawings remind me of Subgenius!


  27. crana said,

    February 21, 2006 at 4:56 pm

    This site is useful for emailing big files:

    Mark, you said:
    “An extract from that PDF: “As it is a major component of blood, water is vital for transporting oxygen to the brain. You need to replace the water which is constantly being lost. Children need between about half to one and a half litres a day.”

    Even for a lawyer those statements are mind-boggling. Has the nature of blood changed in the 20+ years since I did A-level Biology? Is haemoglobin no longer the oxygen transporting component?

    As for the volume of water each child needs — isn’t that rather a large (and therefore meaningless) range?”

    In their defence, I think they were trying to say that water is needed because it is a component of blood, not because it actually transports more than a very small amount of oxygen. I.e. even if you had a load of oxyhaemoglobin, it would not be much use unless it could move round the body mixed with water and other goodies.

    As for the range, it’s presumably to take into account things like the child’s age, time of year, activity level, other foods eaten etc. A ten year old on sports day in June will need a lot more water than a reception child sitting indoors colouring during wet play! I guess the point of giving a range is that it would be a lot more stupid to say “All children need 0.986283 litres a day, no deviations from that!”.

    So yes, it’s stupid, but I just had to defend them that those particular points weren’t quite as stupid as they might seem.

  28. Tim Day said,

    February 21, 2006 at 5:01 pm

    I’ve only come across this once (not anywhere I teach full time, I was on a one day course on behaviour management at a well regarded school on Hertfordshire). I was horrified by the pseudoscience behind it but varous teachers I met reported that it did improve behaviour (which is a major concern these days…don’t get me started). I hypothesise (in a totally unscientific way) that this mainly works, if it does, because giving 14 year olds something physical to do every 20 minutes or so means they aren’t being asked to concentrate for long periods on difficult tasks, and have less opportunity to get bored.

    Whether we should be thus encouraging short attention spans in schoolchildren is another issue, and I also have the usual huge reservations (to say the least) about exposing schoolchildren to the nonsense involved. But I can see why a harassed teacher would try practically anything to improve behaviour and not ask too many questions if it seems to work.

  29. Pthag said,

    February 21, 2006 at 5:47 pm

    Only just found this blog today, looks interesting, could I also have the stuff emailed to

  30. Janet W said,

    February 21, 2006 at 6:29 pm

    I consulted my friend’s kids, who told me they did something called Brain Gym at junior school; all it involved was doing physical coordination and reaction speed exercises for a few minutes either at the start of the school day or before particular lessons (they mentioned Maths and Science). No water was consumed; no strange explanations were given.
    Here’s one they demonstrated, in case you’d like to try it at home: touch your nose with your left hand, and your left ear with your right hand, then vice versa, then repeat, as fast as possible.

  31. JohnD said,

    February 21, 2006 at 6:37 pm

    Bit off topic, but today’s Guardian (21/2/6) has a full page article, “Academics fight creationism at universities” (,,1714171,00.html)

    If the primary school children are getting brain gym and the secondary creationism, someone help us all!


  32. pv said,

    February 21, 2006 at 6:39 pm

    Sure, drinking water and periodic physical exercise are good things. Plain water is always good for the renal system; it helps prevent a concentration of waste material the body needs to expel. Exercise gets the heart muscle pumping faster and the lungs working harder to oxygenate the blood which, unless there is something seriously strange about the arterial system, in turn flows to all parts of the body that need it (including the brain). Yes. Nothing terribly esoteric there. Oxygenated blood helps with clearer thinking. Yes, it’s perfectly well known and wasn’t discovered by quacks.
    So my question is, why does this stuff have to be dressed up in a load of pseudo-scientific bollocks?
    1) In order to sell it.
    2) Because it can be sold for a much higher price.
    3) Because it makes the people who flog it feel superior to the people who buy it.
    4) Because it makes the people who buy it feel superior to those who don’t.

    I suspect Jamie Oliver was on to a more relevant and useful idea by trying to change the diet of school students. Behaviour is affected by, among other things, blood sugar levels, and what and when we drink and eat. But there’s nothing magical about that. Just ask any diabetic.
    It’s not like he’s claiming water is absorbed through the roof of the mouth into the brain, on the basis that water contains oxygen and the brain need it. That’s the pseudo-scientific machinations of the plankton like creatures known as health gurus and marketing executives. Why are these people allowed anywhere near educational institutes?

  33. pv said,

    February 21, 2006 at 6:47 pm

    Janet W, that exercise is just like one we used to do as kids. Rub your tummy (circular motion) with one hand and at the same time pat your head (up and down motion) with the other. The exercise your friend’s kids demonstrated is much easier, especially if you keep your forearms locked together and just move them from side to side.
    I can’t believe people are paying good money (any money even) for this. Dare I mention homeopathy?! 😉

  34. Ben Goldacre said,

    February 21, 2006 at 6:49 pm

    pv: i was pretty impressed by jamie olivers pseudosciencelessness when i noticed it too:

    meanwhile this from a sauce who wishes to remain an anonymouse:

    “While you’re looking at such things, have you come across “HeartMath”? Schools are currently shelling out approximately £500 (apparently)for what appears to be a finger pulse monitor and a computer program that converts pulse rate into a visual image. This is to help children with emotional problems practise strategies for calming themselves down. I’ve no problem with this as a principle, particularly as the main strategies seem to be “slow, deep breathing and think happy thoughts”. Hardly revolutionary.

    “However, the people behind this, the Institute of Heartmath, are making an awful lot of money as schools have to send staff on courses in which they are fed a lot of suspicious sounding “science”. Having found them on the NCAHF’s “List of Dubious Organisations” (article pending), I looked at their website which has this gem on its home page;

    “”Nearly every disease or illness I’ve seen or treated in two decades of medical practice could have been improved or even cured had my patients or I known how to access the physical power of our heart’s intelligence. HeartMath is the owner’s manual we’ve been waiting for to help us recognize and use our heart’s energy to help heal our bodies and our lives.”

    “I started looking at their “research” (largely self-published, always a suspicious sign) but got out of my depth quite quickly – a twenty year old zoology degree wasn’t much use in critiquing claims about “physiological coherence” etc!

    “The whole thing may be completely genuine, but it bears all the hallmarks of pseudoscience.”

  35. raygirvan said,

    February 21, 2006 at 7:26 pm

    Why are these people allowed anywhere near educational institutes?

    Talking pseudoscience in schools, clicking through some of the links for Brain Gym finds more. Via the Ranvilles Infant School Brain Gym page, there’s this one about Water and Aspartame: school web page promoting the standard scare story about aspartame causing every illness under the sun.

  36. crana said,

    February 21, 2006 at 7:39 pm

    (Ben/anon): That sounds a bit like biofeedback techniques (which, I believe, have a pretty good reputation so long as they are done properly rather than trying to alter your chi). It sounds like they heard of that and attempted to emulate it without knowing what they were doing. For one thing, I don’t think genuine theraputic biofeedback would just go by heart rate.

    (By the way, please let me know if I’m missing something and all biofeedback is actually a load of rubbish. It’s always good to know about these things..)

  37. Michael Harman said,

    February 21, 2006 at 8:49 pm

    There’s something called water intoxication, which results from drinking too much water and affects the brain. (That’s apparently what killed Leah Betts, the girl who died after taking Ecstasy; she believed that one needed to drink and the Ecstasy apparently prevented her from realizing that she was drinking FAR too much.)

    Surely there’s a danger the Brain Gym water usage could cause similar effects? At any rate, according to the logic and science of Brain Gym, even if us cynics here are doubtful. What would be the effect of “I, as a mother” expressing concerns to the schools? With a hint of legal action if the child suffers?

  38. pv said,

    February 21, 2006 at 10:17 pm

    This is supposed to be a non-profit organisation. So where is all the money going? How about starting with Christiane Northrup M.D. and seeing what she might have to do with the company, apart from writing the commendation, “Nearly every disease or illness I’ve seen or treated… HeartMath is the owner’s manual we’ve been waiting for…”
    A Google search for “psychological cohereence”, apart from bringing up a host of links to HeartMath (whom I think probably invented the term), gave me this gem of pretentious twaddle at written by one R. Adam Crane BCIA Senior Fellow, BCIAEEG, NRNP Diplomate.
    Yes, the hall marks of pseudoscience.

  39. pv said,

    February 21, 2006 at 10:21 pm

    Is this woman mad, or what?

  40. pv said,

    February 21, 2006 at 10:26 pm

    And here’s another one.
    Would you trust any recommendations from this woman regarding the wellbeing of your children? It’s her glowing recommendation on the HeartMath web site.

  41. Kess said,

    February 21, 2006 at 10:35 pm

    I wonder if there are 2 different brain gyms here? A teacher I spoke to had encountered brain gym but, as Janet W mentioned above, this was just the generic name given to some simple exercises to get your mind working; there were no weird pseudo-scientific overtones. Perhaps the “brain gym” exercises used by some schools are different from the expensive “Brain Gym” courses and materials being peddled by this Californian company?

  42. Ben Goldacre said,

    February 21, 2006 at 10:46 pm

    I am guessing that the pseudoscience that goes with it is added or removed to the taste of the teacher.

  43. crana said,

    February 21, 2006 at 10:50 pm

    pv, you said:

    “A Google search for “psychological cohereence”, apart from bringing up a host of links to HeartMath (whom I think probably invented the term)…”

    unfortunately the term mentioned was *physiological* coherence

  44. Ben Goldacre said,

    February 21, 2006 at 11:03 pm

    here’s another anonyumous submission:

    Please take this anonymously – not that it’s
    anything particularly startling I’m afraid, but I’ll be working with
    some of the people involved again in the future…

    You know that brain gym is also being used in universities? – it’s seen
    as a useful response to ‘learning difficulties’ like dyslexia,
    dyspraxia, ADHD etc. From what I remember some (but not all) of the
    brain gym materials at university come with a kind of ‘disclaimer’
    pointing out that the assumptions brain gym makes don’t tally with what
    we now know about the brain – don’t have the materials any more, so
    can’t check, though. There’s also other (apparently much more
    expensive) private ‘cures’ which seem to be similar and to utilise a
    similarly poor attempt at scientific justification – for example the
    DORE programme (

    anybody else heard of brain gym in universities? which one?

  45. Natalie said,

    February 21, 2006 at 11:45 pm

    My sister who is dyslexic went through the DORE programme, basically involved doing alot of hand-eye co-ordination exercises to ,as it was described, “re-wire” the cerebellum. Ancedotal evidence but this did seem to help her.

    Won’t repeat the references cited early on but there is evidence that this does have a sound basis. What I don’t understand is then why things tend to get wrapped up in a wonderful pseudo-science coating and sold as the best thing since sliced bread!

    And as for brain gyms at universites, the one I am at certainly doesn’t, those that do should be named and shamed!!

  46. pv said,

    February 21, 2006 at 11:52 pm

    crana, forgive my unchecked spelling. It’s been a busy day with not the brightest 12-year old kids and I must admit I am “stanco morto”, as my son says when he doesn’t want to do his homework. The search was for “physiological” coherence – I cut and pasted it, and you can see why!
    But thanks for pointing it out. :)

  47. crana said,

    February 22, 2006 at 12:10 am

    No problems, I just wanted to clarify it.

  48. pv said,

    February 22, 2006 at 12:16 am

    This is from
    It brings a tear to my eye, it’s so… well… emotional… boo hoo… and “intuitively” I just know the “science” Jim, is not science as we know it.

    “How are emotions connected to the heart?
    HeartMath research has shown that emotions are reflected in our heart rhythm patterns. These patterns are transmitted from the heart to the higher brain centers and have profound effects on the way the brain processes information. Feelings of frustration and anxiety cause the heart rhythms to become more disordered and irregular, which inhibits the higher brain centers, causing energy drains, insecurities, and glitches in your decision making functions. Intentionally generated feelings of love and appreciation, on the other hand, progressively increase your ratio of access to clear and effective thinking, problem-solving discernment, memory recall, and an increased connection with your core values. This is because emotions of high quality produce more ordered and coherent heart rhythms, which reduce nervous system chaos and facilitate cortical function.12, 13

    The analysis of HRV, or heart rhythms, is recognized as a powerful, non-invasive measure that reflects heart-brain interactions and autonomic nervous system dynamics, which are particularly sensitive to changes in emotional state.14, 15 IHM research showing how emotions are reflected in the patterns of our heart rhythms has led to a new model of emotion. This model includes the heart, brain, nervous and hormonal systems as fundamental components of a dynamic, interactive network that underlies emotional experience.1, 2 IHM has provided scientific evidence that the heart is truly part of the emotional system, which most people intuitively have known all along. Indeed, most religious and spiritual traditions, regardless of cultural context, have emphasized the value of experiencing and expressing “qualities of the heart” – feelings such as love, care, gratitude, appreciation, compassion, tolerance, forgiveness–all of which can increase heart rhythm coherence.”

  49. Ben Goldacre said,

    February 21, 2006 at 11:48 am

    natalie, just to be clear, i’m sure there’s lots that’s good in various fun classroom exercises, but dressing them up in pseudoscience, largely to pretend that one particular sort is somehow more special than the others, is wrong, and telling children rubbish about water and bits of the brain is – and i really mean this – unforgivable.

  50. ANGRY BRAIN said,

    February 22, 2006 at 4:09 am

    I am getting increasingly fed up with the way in which your website and associated column misrepresent the work of a hardworking minority of people who have the full support of the vast majority of the public in the work to provide an alternative to the mainstream and unquestioned “WISDOM” peddled in science journals and the like.

    Your assertion that brain gym does not work is utter rubbish. You only have to go to schools that use this system to find that the children benefit with a massive increase in their thought power. What you have missed in your debunking zeal and rather New Labour quantitative approach is that it is not the number of thought that the children are having, rather the QUALITY of them. Each thought that occurs after only a half-hour Brain-Gym work-out is broader and longer-lasting than those that preceded it. Of course it is hard to measure this instead of just counting the number of thoughts produced. What you do not see is that these are small and ineffective. Just because something cannot be measured does not mean it does not exist. Take the sun, or the galaxy; no tape measure will ever be big enough for these and yet I don’t hear people going around saying they don’t exist or don’t work.

    I wish you would grow up and spend your time more productively.

  51. Patrick Caldon said,

    February 22, 2006 at 6:34 am


    It’s unclear whether your post is a parody of Brain Gym supporters or not. Please clarify.

  52. Delster said,

    February 22, 2006 at 9:09 am

    I think Angry Brain needs some brain gym…… after all…. anybody who can come up with “quality” thoughts knows that you can measure the size of the sun using angle and distance

    Not too mention nobody has actually said brain gym (as in the physical activities) does not produce results of some kind. Whats being debunked is the “science” behind the claims.

    To be honest if i had 5-10 minutes every couple of hours away from my desk & computer doing something physical then i’d feel better and be able to concentrate better too.

  53. Coobeastie said,

    February 22, 2006 at 9:39 am

    I was at an education meeting where there was a talk on Brain Gym, and we did some Brain Gym excercises. I did indeed have braod and long lasting thoughts, those thoughts being “This is utter bollocks, isn’t it?”.

    Some of the excercises also could have some psychological effects as well. For example, we were asked to ‘unfold our ears’ in preparation for listening – this gives a physical reinforcer to a verbal instruction, which can be valuable to children.

  54. LC said,

    February 22, 2006 at 9:58 am

    I have to agree with Patrick.

    From what I remember of schoolboy physics, measuring the size of the sun, or the distance between stellar objects is quite achieveable using proven scientific methods.

    I’m curious how you measure the breadth of a childs imagination without introducing any psychosamatic bias or otherwise influencing the results.. Perhaps one of those fantastic sounding Heartmath biofeedback machines have a seperate monitor or probe for detecting bullshit.

    If the standard of thought was a measureable quantity, then we could compare the advantages of a 30 minutes water gargling and ear rubbing session to a 30 minute break playing with friends.

    Oh and in response to reply 38, Leah Betts had consumed about 7 litres (1.85 gal.) in less than 90 minutes, resulting in water intoxication and hyponatremia (a dilution of the blood, disrupting sodium levels) (Source: Wikipedia this time) .. I doubt teachers would be making children drink that much.

  55. ANGRY BRAIN said,

    February 22, 2006 at 11:08 am


    “From what I remember of schoolboy physics…” well if that is what you have to base all your opinions on then that really is not good enough, is it? I have been using proven methods of my own to measure the width of a child’s thoughts and these are just as valid as your own so called “Proven Scientific methods”. Proven how, I ask you? By the very people who come up with them in the first place and with an obvious vested interest in maintaining the public faith in their validity. If it is so proven then I think you should go ahead and prove it for yourself. Having found that it is all based on abstruse mathematics and the words of a bloke in a dress from Ancient Greece I think you will find that there may be unanswered questions. For a start, has anyone ever been to the sun to see how far away IT REALLY IS? Well? WHO?

    The problem of most of you people is that you just beleive the first thing you come across without questioning any of what backs it up. Everything is based on things which are taken as given but are all, in effect, postulations that are entirely questionable. I refer you to the concept of a Hypothesis.

  56. PJA said,

    February 22, 2006 at 11:14 am

    I think Angry Brain was joking.

    But after a 37 degree leftward twizzle of my little finger I then had a particularly longlasting and somewhat bulbous thought.

  57. conejo said,

    February 22, 2006 at 11:29 am

    The stuff about HeartMath seems to have got mixed up with the Brane Jim discussion, I guess on the grounds that they are both ways for schools to get rid of all those embarrassing piles of cash hidden in the Head’s desk. :-)

    But are we being a bit hard on QuantumIntech?

    (BTW – I have no link with QI or HeartMath, nor had I even heard of them before reading this discussion. I have done some academic and clinical research on heart rate variability and have written software which I suppose does some of the same things as the HeartMath software)

    If you scroll to the bottom of the web page referred to in post 49 (and also the page: there is a list of references, some of which are peer reviewed papers in pukka journals.

    The QI advisory board ( also looks fairly heavyweight.

    Coherence is a well defined statistical function ( see: ) which is widely used in digital signal analysis. If you Fourier Transform the signal from a finger or earlobe plethysmograph, (which I assume is what the HeartMath device is doing) it usually shows three strongly defined low frequency peaks which are associated with the homeostatic control mechanisms for body temperature, blood pressure and respiration. Put very simplistically, it’s a bit like listening to the central heating switching on and off as the thermostat does its stuff. External periodic stimuli (such as slow, guided breathing or cold/warm air flows over the skin) can indeed capture, or ‘entrain’ these rythyms – within limits which depend on a host of factors including age, fitness, diabetic status, stage in the menstrual cycle, etc. The coherence function is one tool for measuring the correlation between the stimulus and the degree of entrainment. It’s plausible that emotional states such as stress, panic, fear also affect this, so “psycho-physiological coherence” may be a bit pretentious but it accurately describes the hypothesis.

    It’s quite easy to show experimentally that guided breathing can not only ‘capture’ the control mechanisms, but that it can also slow the actual heart rate. (In my silly analogy, it’s corresponds to not only affecting the thermostat cycle but also changing the pump rate of the boiler). This presumably would have a calming effect on the emotional state of kids. I don’t know of any evidence that kids learn (or more generally, “perform” in some way) better if they are in this relaxed state but it seems plausible and worth investigating properly.

    The basic idea of entraining these systems goes way, way back – to the turn of 19th/20th century I think.

    I don’t like this stuff about “intelligence of the heart” and “communicating between heart and brain” because the words seem inappropriate metaphors, but I suppose it’s aimed at non-scientists and we all talk loosely about computers giving cars some ‘intelligence’ when what we mean is autonomous regulation and control.

    But coming back to those piles of cash, I’m not convinced that it’s good value for money for schools to buy this stuff. Any teachers out there who can defend using it?

  58. LC said,

    February 22, 2006 at 11:35 am

    Ah thanks Brain that makes everything perfectly clear!

  59. pv said,

    February 22, 2006 at 12:02 pm

    Hey, Angry Brain, if you go to a Montessori school you’ll find the students there are, among other things, encouraged to move about expansively; not in the timid, restricted way that modern living conditions dictate (city dwelling, tiny living spaces, crowded classrooms and workplaces etc.). The consequence is that Montessori schools produce some of the most well adjusted, academically capble students. I’ve seen the results myself and, indeed, if there were one in my area my son would be attending it. Montesori works. In my view it’s the best system of eduction ever devised. BUT, unlike BrainGym, its proponents don’t try to dress it up with a load of self-serving, pseudo-scientific bollocks.

    Regarding science, I think you’ll find most of the contributors here know that it is a constant (never ending) process of questioning, testing, analysing, evaluating and re-evaluating just to get to the most probable truth at any given time.We live with uncertainty. And that’s the whole point. The writers of pseudo-scientific drivel are appealing to people who are uncomfortable with uncertainty and mistakenly believe that science deals with facts (cast in stone, as it were).

    Regarding the sun.
    “For a start, has anyone ever been to the sun to see how far away IT REALLY IS? Well? WHO?” is the sort of idiot logic put up by Creationists and supporters of Intelligent Design (IDiots). As it happens, merely visiting it need not tell you anything about the distance travelled. However, I think you’ll find the odd spacecraft has been sent there which doubtless would have transmitted signals on its journey. The time it takes to recieve the signals from the time they were sent enables a distance to be calculated. Also trigonometry works. The speed of light … colour shift… spectroscopy… all voodoo I suppose!

  60. Paul said,

    February 22, 2006 at 12:32 pm

    I admire the fact that you are willing to enter the forum and stand up for what you believe. However, it’s important to remember that the ferocity with which one clings onto a belief is not always correlated with the truth of that belief. In fact, there is a very real danger of the opposite being true. So when you say that you are convinced that Brain Gym improves the quality of thoughts, the first question you should ask yourself, as any decent scientist would, is “Might I be wrong?” and then “How can I test the possible ways in which I might be wrong?”. You have to assume a sceptical position and then refute that position. If you don’t, your beliefs must take their place aloingside other matters of opinon – ripe for debate and debunking – I hope that you agree with this because, if you don’t, you’re essentially saying that, if you believe something hard enough, then it must be a fact. I’m sure you wouldn’t think that, would you?

    As the man said – Science may not tell me what’s true, but it’s the best defence I have against believing what I want.

  61. crana said,

    February 22, 2006 at 1:11 pm

    Angry brain, you’re the best.

  62. le canard noir said,

    February 22, 2006 at 1:22 pm

    Uh, actually ANGRY BRAIN, I have been to the Sun, and found it to be 92 million miles away (roughly).

  63. Ben Goldacre said,

    February 22, 2006 at 1:43 pm

    loving ANGRY BRAIN, it’s a toss up for best ever comment between him and:

  64. James said,

    February 22, 2006 at 2:04 pm

    Angry Brian.

    How would you know that your tape measuge is 92 million miles long?

    You are just trusting the old man in the apron at B&Q!!!

  65. James said,

    February 22, 2006 at 2:07 pm

    Tape measure even.

  66. le canard noir said,

    February 22, 2006 at 2:07 pm

    I know Ben started this thread asking for responses from teachers, but ANGRY BRAIN, please, please, please, put us out of our misery and reasure us that you are not a teacher. If you cannot do this, then please help us by telling us that you are not a science teacher. And seriously, do you honestly beleive that the only way to measure distance is with a tape measure? Surely even an ANGRY BRAIN slows down when passing a speed camera?

    OK pedants, yes speed cameras measure speed but RADAR is used to primarily measure distance – and RADAR is exactly how we know how far away the Sun is with huge amounts of accuracy.

    OK OK – for the even more pedantic – no we don’t use RADAR to measure the disance to the Sun – but we do use RADAR to measure the distance to Venus (it has a solid reflective surface) and then use basic trig to work out the distance to the Sun.

    Oh Damn – trig might be classed as ‘abstruse mathematics and the words of a bloke in a dress from Ancient Greece ‘. Back to square one.

  67. Ben Goldacre said,

    February 22, 2006 at 2:11 pm

    i don’t know about teacher but he’s posting from a computer registered to the university of sheffield.

  68. jk said,

    February 22, 2006 at 2:23 pm

    Re Angry Brain, is anyone else a bit worried by this:

    “I have been using proven methods of my own to measure the width of a child’s thoughts”

    Given AB’s frail grip on reality, is he/she really the right person for thought-measuring in minors?

  69. Susan said,

    February 22, 2006 at 2:26 pm

    My ‘Brain Gym’ handout says ‘ Drink some water: water conducts electricity and enables neural activity to occur’

    From the ‘Brain Gym Mini Menu’ : Drink a glass of water- Increases energy; improves production and concentration (alleviates mental fatigue); improves test taking ability and all academic skills.

    Also, ‘Hook-ups’ : a calming effect is achieved as energy is redirected to the rational centres of the brain then balanced between the right and left hemispheres.

  70. le canard noir said,

    February 22, 2006 at 2:31 pm

    Hey Ben – you are a sleuth. Sounds like one of those pesky pomo humanities grads to me…

  71. le canard noir said,

    February 22, 2006 at 2:42 pm

    A quick Google of mind gym and sheffield brings up some marvelous new stuff and the odd name…

    Just try

    The most beautiful part is the introduction to ‘Earobics’. Pure Genius. Could these indeed be the ‘proven methods to measure width of a child’s thoughts’?

  72. Susan said,

    February 22, 2006 at 2:44 pm

    Sheffield University is home of Rod Nicholson Professor of Psychology, one of the DDAT (now DORE) men:

  73. Stellenboschjames said,

    February 22, 2006 at 2:54 pm

    And somebody called Dilys Treharne who has apparently used some form of “Brain Gym type exercises”

  74. James said,

    February 22, 2006 at 3:09 pm

    “I have been using proven methods of my own to measure the width of a child’s thoughts and these are just as valid as your own so called “Proven Scientific methods”.

    You’ve just been using your tape measure of omniscience again haven’t you?

  75. Delster said,

    February 22, 2006 at 3:39 pm

    Black Duck post 66,

    some trig can be proved very simply…. very basic maths with nothing more than multlipication used. think right angle triangle…. thats basic trig.

  76. pv said,

    February 22, 2006 at 5:36 pm

    Assuming Angry Brain isn’t just extracting the michael I’d like him/her to define the word “width”; as inthe context of “width of a child’s thoughts”. I was wondering if he didn’t mean “thickness”, for which there are probably quite a few proven methods. I think a failure to be able to state one’s name and date of birth, or to recite one’s two times table might denote “thickness”, or at least a very poor memory.

  77. ANGRY MCTEETH said,

    February 22, 2006 at 6:39 pm

    oFF tOPIC

    “Gillian Mckeith loves a nice big bowl of poo for breakfast…”

  78. David said,

    February 22, 2006 at 8:05 pm

    As for universities: running a search on Google for “brain gym” at sites ending with came up with 170+ hits. Some of them seem to be neutral or indeed critical reports about the use of this “technique” in schools, but a depressing number do indeed suggest that they are using it in universities as dyslexia therapy, and that quite a few education departments are advocating it too. For example, this from the University of Sunderland:

    though the encouraging thing there is that they do say that they are the only university in the region to do so, so all kudos to Durham, Newcastle and Northumbria if that’s true. Most of the sites also don’t go in for the pseudo-scientific gobbledegook, though this from the University of Ulster is an exception.

  79. Caroline said,

    February 22, 2006 at 10:29 pm

    As a teacher, I have been subjected to the theory of Brain Gym for about the last 4 years. It now appears to have been rebranded as ‘Brain Breaks’.

    Personally, I haven’t experienced the concept of Brain Gym as a sinister pseudoscience. It’s usually been presented to me as a way of breaking up a lesson, and giving kids a break. Considering an average schoolchild will have an attention span of about 30 minutes, this in itself doesn’t strike me as a bad idea, and children do find some of them quite good fun.

    However, if some of the mumbo-jumbo I’ve read above is true, It’s obviously being misused.

  80. Alex (Maths Undergraduate) said,

    February 22, 2006 at 11:00 pm

    ANGRY BRAIN’s comment 55 I cannot let your emotional attacks go without further challenge. I take great exception to your dismissal of any mathematics as “abstruse”. Mathematics is arguably one of the purest of the sciences and anyone with a reasonable understanding of the subject can quite easily prove “the words of a bloke in a dress from Ancient Greece”. Are you going to tell us that your time at school was a complete waste or do you not even ‘believe’ that c squared equals a squared plus b squared (perfectly provable in 3 minutes with a calculator). Now that you have extensively commented on the debunking of your “science” I quite understand why it is dangerous to allow this “Brain Gym” to enter our school systems and why everyone is so upset by it.

  81. Alex (Maths Undergraduate) said,

    February 22, 2006 at 11:12 pm


    I seriously hope that my Uni is not in on this.

  82. potsy700 said,

    February 22, 2006 at 11:15 pm


    When I was 10 we had a maths teacher who, very occassionally in the middle of double maths would shout “tea break” and give us 5 minutes to stop work and natter. Presumably he did this when he could see we were getting bored or restless. Probably worked very well and probably common sense, as you say. But do you really need to go on a £500 course for this??

  83. Michael Harman said,

    February 22, 2006 at 11:24 pm

    ANGRY BRAIN has obviously practiced Brain Gym exercises assiduously for many years.

  84. Ben Goldacre said,

    February 22, 2006 at 11:38 pm

    well, it’s been two days since i emailed brain gym’s HQ in america, and the one in britain, to ask how i can get hold of some copies of the brain gym journal. unfortunately i’ve had no response.

    not being able to get hold of these journals poses some serious problems. they make various claims for what their studies show, in their own review of their own literature, in their own journal. they offer a summary of conclusions, but in science, the authors conclusions are a matter of opinion: informed opinion, of course, but what counts is the specifics of the methods, and the results.

    to see for ourselves whether the studies are meaningful, we have to see the original paper, and look at really basic stuff like: what was the control group? how large were the samples? what was measured? is that a valid measure? what statistical tests were used? were the results significant? and so on.

    without the journals, without the full experiment write-up in front of me, it’s all meaningless speculation.

    does anyone in the uk have these brain gym journals?

    will brain gym answer my email?

    i’m like totally on the edge of my seat.

  85. potsy700 said,

    February 22, 2006 at 11:45 pm

    I’d love to go on one of these courses, and everytime they come out with some crap put up my hand and point out that it’s rubbish.

    Does anyone know any doctors / neurosurgeons who could go ‘undercover’? Then we could expose it in the papers “The terrible LIES force fed to our children!” and stand there in a black and white picture with our arms folded, looking serious.


  86. Pietro Crespi said,

    February 23, 2006 at 1:48 am

    Imagine the benefits our schools would reap if we fed the children not just water, but water with potential traces of natural compounds! Of course this may necessitate wider classrooms, or smaller classes, as the potential width of the thoughts this method would produce could be anything up to two metres. And everyone knows that when thoughts overlap, the electromagnetic energy causes noise, which our brains interpret as confusion. To solve this I would propose fitting every child with a tin foil hat, channeling their thoughts’ width into vertical length, and so avoiding the potential for disruption. Only then would the minds of our children be ready to grapple with the difficult theory of intelligent design, we would be studied forthwith. Any child refusing to comply with this new direction would be sent into fields to seek out watches left by God so we could finally get the “empirical evidence” about which these “scientists” seem to get so excited.

  87. jk said,

    February 23, 2006 at 11:18 am

    Hmm….BG….Ben Goldacre…..Brain Gym…coincidence? Well, probably.

    BG: “without the journals, without the full experiment write-up in front of me, it’s all meaningless speculation”

    True enough, a smoking gun would be nice. But does that mean all they have to do to be safe from scrutiny is keep their mouths shut? If so, the homeopathists are missing a trick.

  88. andy brown said,

    February 23, 2006 at 12:46 pm

    i think ben is going to post some slides from my lecture here. the best bits, in my opinion, are the ones that show the combinations of excercises you need to do for different tasks – the five tasks needed to boost mathematical ability, for example, are completely different to the tasks needed to boost ‘home study skills’ (and when ben posts the slides – for the ‘positive points’ excercise, please rest assured that you don’t, strictly speaking, *need* to get a small child to hang on to your eyebrows as illustrated – you can do it just as effectively yourself.)

  89. Susan said,

    February 23, 2006 at 12:58 pm

    Got dodgy eye sight? Do ‘Earth buttons’ -one hand touches upper lip and other hand touches upper edge of pubic bone -then reverse hands -helps with visual accommodation and metabolism :-O Illustration of elderly lady looking very pleased with herself.

  90. Susan said,

    February 23, 2006 at 1:20 pm

    Sorry, the weblink comes up wrong on the previous post -it should be -go to Room 101 for lots of websites for dyslexia treatments and ‘cures’. Black Duck could you look at them all, with your ‘quackometer’, please?

  91. Ben Goldacre said,

    February 23, 2006 at 1:25 pm

    andy’s powerpoint slides from his brain gym lecture are up on the site for anyone to download here, thanks andy.

    if you don’t own the global microsoft corporation’s “powerpoint” to open them with, then i recommend the excellent and free openoffice.

  92. tom said,

    February 23, 2006 at 2:07 pm

    Andy Brown and Angry Brain (AB, AB?) are both at Sheffield University? I say they meet up and settle this the old fashioned way…

  93. andy brown said,

    February 23, 2006 at 2:11 pm

    ha ha !
    if post 92 was from the Tom i think it was, he’s both an academic *and* a black belt in Aikido; so he really *can* claim to be the ‘academic ninja’ that ben claims to be !

  94. FatBat said,

    February 23, 2006 at 3:04 pm

    As an aside, a few years ago, a relation of mine had the bright idea of having Tai Chi sessions for primary school children just after “play time”, to calm them down and get them ready for the next lesson. This had wonderful effects of the children’s concentration and behaviour. It seems that just by taking “time out”, as our American friends would say, and having children get their brains focussed does pay dividends. All Brane Jim seem to be doing is wrapping this rather obvious statement in pseudo-science nonsense, just to make it sound more impressive and, of course, to be able to put a more impressive price-tag on it.

  95. Hugh Parker said,

    February 23, 2006 at 3:43 pm

    I work in a school as the IT guy, and I went to a Brain Gym presentation that was done, in shifts, for all the staff and children here.

    We were given the PACE talk: Positivity, Activity, Clarity and Energy. First we were told that we needed Energy. To achieve this we were told to drink lots of water because water gives us energy and conducts the electrical signals around our bodies.

    The other three are clarity, activity, and positivity. We were given three exercises for these three things, but I can’t remember which went with which.

    The next exercise was for Clarity. This exercise had us increasing our ability to pay attention to things by massaging our ears. We were told that “this sends a signal to your brain that some information’s coming and it should pay attention”.

    The next was for Activity. We were asked to massage both joints between the sternum and the collarbone with one hand, and to hold our belly button with the other. After a few seconds we swapped hands. This, we were told, “switches the brain on”.

    Finally, we did the Positivity game. As a preliminary exercise we were asked to compare how our bodies felt after saying “I can” three times, and then “I can’t” three times. We were asked if the first one felt better, and about half the children obidiently and in unison said yes, while the other half looked a bit confused. Then on to the exercise itself: sitting on the floor, we crossed our legs and twisted our arms round each other. We were told that this would encourage positivity.

    The other exercise we did, semmingly separate from the PACE thing, was to touch one knee with the other elbow. We were told that, since each side of the brain is separate and each side controls one side of the body, and exercise like this encourages both sides to work together. I’d have thought walking was quite a good cross-lateral exercise.

    I don’t know how much the school paid for all this, but I’m sure I’ll be incensed when I find out. I’d like to find out who hired this charlatan into our school and have a gentle word on the subject of bull detection, but I’m not sure what the best way of approaching it is. The most depressing thing was that I’m pretty sure our Brain-Gym teacher was as convinced by her nonsense-talk as anyone.

  96. Ben Goldacre said,

    February 23, 2006 at 3:45 pm

    ha! if 93 is true, does that mean i have a posse? only i was thinking of writing about animal rights and creationism next week..

  97. le canard noir said,

    February 23, 2006 at 4:11 pm

    Hey Susan at post 90. The Quackometer isn’t doing too well at this site. Zero Quack Points. This is a new area of quackery for him but this stuff has incensed me so much I will see if I can train him to spot this. On a technical note, that site is using HTML frames and debunking ducks don’t know how to scoot around them. I wish I didn’t have a full time job to do – this is so much fun.

  98. andy brown said,

    February 23, 2006 at 4:25 pm

    i’m sure tom would be glad to be in your posse. he’s over at

    and he really is a black belt !

  99. Ben Goldacre said,

    February 23, 2006 at 4:36 pm

    charles darwin has a posse

  100. Delster said,

    February 23, 2006 at 4:53 pm

    if it helps i’ve done a bit of aikido and karate as well… not to mention military marksman award :-)

  101. ANGRY BRAIN said,

    February 23, 2006 at 6:40 pm

    Alex (Maths Undergraduate).
    You are telling me that I can find these mathematical “proofs” by simply adding things up using a CALCULATOR?? Have you any idea what happens inside a calculator? You push the buttons on the outside, it spits out a number and this is your proof? You’ll have to do better than that.

    I have also been questioned as to how to measure the width of a child’s thoughts. It is measurable in the way that any normal person would measure things, with a tape measure. My method of measurement is to put paper tape measures (available from Ikea) around children’s heads held on with a paper-clip. After a series of Brain Gym exercises the tape nearly always shifts or even falls off indicating an increase in the size of the child’s head. Asking questions about the thoughts that the child is having before and after Brain Gym shows that although they may not have as many thoughts, they talk about them for longer so the thought is Obviously bigger.

    And, pv (post 76), you’re not very funny.

  102. guthrie said,

    February 23, 2006 at 7:59 pm

    I do western martial arts, and am quite handy with a variety of swords…

    (as well as a few years of karate and aikido)

    After any child has had something put on their head, it will probably fall off after 15 minutes, due to them moving about. Nice mickey take though.

  103. Melissa G said,

    February 23, 2006 at 8:19 pm

    I, too, am a black belt (Wado-Ryu karate) and would like to join the Bad Science Posse– no pseudoscience shall withstand our collective Geek Fu!

  104. James said,

    February 23, 2006 at 9:09 pm

    I occasionally get a bit aggressive when I’m drunk…

  105. pv said,

    February 23, 2006 at 9:14 pm

    “And, pv (post 76), you’re not very funny”

    Ohhh, AB, how disappointing. And I was so hoping to break out of my boring, humdrum daily routine and start a career in the interesting, lucrative world of comedy quackery. I rather thought my suggestions for a “thickness” test were cutting edge you know.
    Hey, Angry Brain, you are really, very funny yourself you know (amongst other things). And I am in totaly awe of your massive intellect. It must take an absolutel gynormous Ikea tape measure to go round your bonce. What with those humungously wide thoughts of yours – must be really hard for you to get through the average 30 inch doorway. Your head is obviously ideally suited to groundbreaking work, don’t you think. You keep up the good work now AB – it’s very entertaining. Don’t let me down!!

  106. Yogini said,

    February 23, 2006 at 9:56 pm

    Nice Darwin cartoon!

  107. Natalie said,

    February 23, 2006 at 10:51 pm

    very off topic im sorry but help required from all you lovely people here. please go to and sign the petition about graduate entry medical students being denied a student loan to cover the £3000 top-up fees. we really need the support of as many people as possible!!

    granted not bad-science but potentially very damaging to the nations health!!!

  108. Paul said,

    February 24, 2006 at 6:36 am

    ANGRY BRAIN – nice one – you had me going there. That last post was pure gold

    An aside: as a cognitive neuroscientist, I would argue that small thoughts are better – there’s evidence that increased efficiency of neural processing may be reflected in sculpting and reduction of the size of neural populations subserving that processing. So brain gym ought to be making thoughts sleeker and slimmer rather than buffing/pumping them up.

    Hang on a sec – it’s 6:30am, I’ve got work to do and I’m sitting here arguing the toss over whether big thoughts are better than little thoughts. Time for my medication.

  109. andy brown said,

    February 24, 2006 at 9:36 am

    ha ha ! nice one angry brain, you had us all going !

    do i know you, what with you being in sheffield ?

  110. pv said,

    February 24, 2006 at 2:05 pm

    “I would argue that small thoughts are better – there’s evidence that increased efficiency of neural processing may be reflected in sculpting and reduction of the size of neural populations subserving that processing. So brain gym ought to be making thoughts sleeker and slimmer rather than buffing/pumping them up.”

    Paul, so that’s why the tape measure falls off. BrainGym is causing the head to shrink rather than expand.

  111. Paul said,

    February 24, 2006 at 2:51 pm

    Exactly, PV – which means that your thickness quotient is a potentially valuable measure of neural efficiency

  112. ANGRY BRAIN said,

    February 24, 2006 at 9:27 pm

    Bugger. Busted! I was rather enjoying trying to be someone of weapons-grade density but I suppose the tape measure test was a bit daft, though I am interested to see why the tape fell off. I will try to think of something else once the children get back out of the home.

    Andy. I don’t think I know you, I am in Architecture (where utter bollocks holds good currency and I am very very wealthy). Are you part of the University?

  113. pv said,

    February 25, 2006 at 12:29 am

    *weapons-grade density”

    Indeed, a very good impression of a Chobham armour plated nutcase. Nice one. :)

  114. Sceptic Mum said,

    February 26, 2006 at 10:27 am

    My children’s primary school is part of a group of schools involved in a Brain Gym trial.
    The exercises involve pressing their brain buttons (which as far as I can ascertain are either side of the collar bone?) and something called cross crawl and hook-ups.
    Whilst the teachers may have fallen for this hook, line and sinker, it didn’t take my children long to see through it and my 6-year-old describes it as “rubbish”.

  115. Ben Goldacre said,

    February 28, 2006 at 6:56 pm

    still no response from brain gym UK or US. i guess i’m going to have to start telephoning. amazing how difficult it is to see these people’s published research from the brain gym journal. hmmm… i guess that’s why people only pay attention to material published in proper journals…

  116. Ben Goldacre said,

    February 28, 2006 at 6:58 pm

    hmmm and it’s not available in the british library…

  117. Ben Goldacre said,

    March 1, 2006 at 3:11 pm

    just posted this on the official brain gym forum:


    i’m trying to get hold of some of the research papers that are listed as being in the brain gym journal, but i can’t get a reply from anyone at Brain Gym UK or US.

    has anyone here ever seen this research in its full published academic journal article form?

    if anyone knows where i can get hold of any of the research, by which i mean the full study, not the summary in the pdf you can download, please please do let me know,



  118. Ben Goldacre said,

    March 2, 2006 at 3:59 pm

    no reply from brain gym about getting their journal since feb 20th, but somebody from the organisation has been chatting to me here. he thinks the brain gym journal might not contain what i think it contains:,1895,1902#msg-1902

  119. Ian said,

    March 3, 2006 at 1:58 pm

    I teach in Derby and, although I’ve heard of Brain Gynm, only heard the pseudoscience crap here. This inspired me to find some of their literature (Revised Teachers Edition from 94) which is held in the SEN department here.

    It’s scary how bad it is. In fact, I’m planning to put some of their explanations up on the board for my Year 9 kids to pick apart for their investigative skills programme next week. For example:

    “This back-and-forward movement of the head increases circulation tot eh frontal lobe for greater comprehension and rational thinking.”

    “While working with language-delayed children, Dr. Dennison discovered the relationship of the tendons in the calf to self-expression, speech and language development. Hyperactive children who did not talk were often able to pay attention, listen, learn and develop language after releasing the calf muscles.”

    Regarding water:

    “Other liquids are processed in the body as food, and do not serve the body’s needs.”
    “Processed foods do not contain water…”
    “Working with electronic equipment (e.g., computer terminals, TV) is dehydrating to the body.”

    Many of the comments in text about where he has learned the exercises etc refer to chiropractic, osteopathy, acupuncture and other sCAM practices.

    In my lessons, I’ve had comments ask if I’m using BrainGym when I ask them to stand up and stretch during a lesson (nope, I just noticed they were getting sleepy) and will now be telling them no, because BrainGym is crap…


  120. Ben Goldacre said,

    March 3, 2006 at 2:03 pm

    i demand copies of these excellent documents, please email me!

  121. pv said,

    March 3, 2006 at 4:53 pm

    Allies come dressed in all manner of guises!

  122. Peter said,

    March 5, 2006 at 3:56 am

    Help! My local school district is looking at starting a pilot program of Brain Gym. I need help to debunk the pseudoscience of this crap. Please let me know of any publications or links I can use to discredit the Brain Gym before it becomes official policy.
    Thank you for your help.

  123. subbuteo said,

    March 5, 2006 at 9:34 am

    I am a primary school teacher. Imagine my surprise and delight at finding this page on Brain Gym. I had a near Brain Gym experience last year but didn’t get to go on the course- I was genuinely disappointed. This year we had a taster session. I had to turn my bullshit filter up to full and sit rocking quietly at the back humming to myself. I was polite and didn’t ask difficult questions. It didn’t seem fair, she really believed in what she was saying. Eight of my colleagues are paying their own money and doing the course on eight Saturday mornings following this.

    I am firmly of the opinion that too much science (or at least the wrong sort) is taught in primary schools. It should be left to those who know what they are doing in secondary school. My favourite primary school teacher science gem was goes something as follows (and this is genuine- I work with this person)

    Child: What is atmosphere?
    Teacher: It’s a bit like a feeling you get at a good party or restaurant.

    I hold yellow belts in several martial arts and would be honoured to join your posse.

  124. The Rev. Schmitt. said,

    March 6, 2006 at 2:37 am

    Not sure if you wanted our wee stories here or through your contact page and I’m not sure how helpful this will be – but I was a precocious British schoolkid not too long ago myself, and my geography teacher at secondary school wasted five or ten minutes of every lesson doing brain gym. One of the exercises was to massage the area of the skull just behind the zygomatic arch with one’s fingers, the idea being that it would induce yawning and thereby ‘get more oxygen to the brain’, making us more creative and awake. Similar exercises intended to get the brain more ‘active’ included standing on one leg, with the knee of the other lifted up to one’s chest, running on the spot, the aforementioned holding water in our mouths before swallowing it, and rubbing our stomachs while patting our heads. I’m not entirely sure the wasted time was worth the entertainment of seeing a 40+ year old man act very, very silly.

  125. Melinda said,

    March 13, 2006 at 10:12 am

    After reading the majority of your comments I’m wondering if you all have some experience with implementing the components of ‘Brain Gym’ with your own class of children? I have spent a lot of my life immeshed in some form of educating children. My Grandmother, my Mother and myself are, and have been all teachers, ranging across a vast number of years. Each generation of educators obviously have their own way of relaying what they want to their students. Yet myself , my mother and grandmother all have found the use of actions, involving using different sides of the body, following actions with eyes, listening to music and many of the other elements that are involved in the ‘brain gym’ method. The results that I have had with my own implementation , and that which have been relayed to me by my family, is notibly marked. A.D.H.D, aspergers and special needs, as well as with our fourtunate unchallenged children. My opinion is that maybe people get bogged done in the rather ‘airy-fairy’ talk of ‘openings and realignings’ and the like, but if you take the chance you find that these methodologies do seem to work on the level it needs to, with the outcomes for the children. More power to children who may not need to learn these offered tools, yet lets not limit what others may flourish in. Methods of Educating have changed dramaticly over years of helpng people learn. We must remeber we have gone from strict guide lines where we were all percieved as one. This moved thankfully in to achieving outcomes for individuals that as in line with their cognitive and physical abilities. Scaffolding allowed us to make every learner an individual. We teach Jolly Phonix, which would never have happened before, we teach THRASS, do the children laugh..yes they do…and they learn…yes. Learning through fun….Gosh No, would have been the cry from yester year. Lets not get caught up in the box….let’s see if the tool works.

  126. Naadir said,

    March 13, 2006 at 10:31 pm

    Thanks for the heads up on Brain Gym.

    As a dyspraxic, BG seems to be really popular on the Yahoo mailing lists for Autistic Spectrum Disorders.

  127. Lindsy said,

    March 15, 2006 at 4:31 pm

    I was enjoying reading these responses very much. I only made it to 50 and had to comment, so I don’t know what was said after that.

    For the last three years I’ve worked with freshman college students in a remedial reading class, where we are required by the director to lead a particular brain gym exercise at the beginning of each day. We do PACE. We drink water, rub our collarbone, touch our opposite knees with hands, and do “hookups,” which are basically breathing.

    The students hate it because they are 18-40 years old (adults!), and don’t take it as just a ‘fun’ break from class. It keeps them from taking the rest of the class seriously. If we could stop peddling this as “magic” and simply tell them it helps you relax (which it does) it would be a lot more useful.

  128. Christine Lowe said,

    March 17, 2006 at 5:27 pm

    Post number 125 – Melinda, are you sure you are a teacher? I know we don’t have the biggest brains on the planet but the whole point of the argument is not whether using “actions” in teaching works- it seems to – but whether there is any good evidence to support the brain gym stuff. I’ve been along to a course and it certainly energised me, but only because I was furious (and needing to go to the loo after drinking so much water!) Thanks, everyone, for an entertaining read.

  129. Nick Humphris said,

    March 18, 2006 at 9:13 am

    In today’s Guardian (18 March 2006) it points to this website for a list of schools using Brain Gym.

    I have searched for this list and cannot find it. It was said to be a long list.

    How can I view this list?

  130. Em said,

    March 18, 2006 at 1:20 pm

    Partially scientific stuff – on water – I would think that many primary age children are, to a measurable amount, dehydrated part way through the school day. Why? Unless they bring their own bottle of water/juice, the only sources of water are at drinking fountains – hygenically placed in toilets! or if they take school dinners – warmish water from a plastic jug.
    If the body is dehydrated, difficulties can develop – varying from headaches to urinary tract infections.
    Clean cold water should be readily available, on demand, in all classrooms.
    I’m sure the brain works at its optimum when the bodies hydration level is also at its optimum. No evidence, but sounds reasonable.
    Brain Gym. mmmmmm! As from previous comments, ‘tea breaks’ or any form of moving around rather than sitting still for long periods of time ( remember double maths!!) must do the child some good. Children I have taught have appreciated 5/10 minutes on the yard/field for a run about before going back to class and settling down to work.
    None of this is rocket science and needs no expensive training.

  131. DK said,

    March 22, 2006 at 5:33 pm


    Yes – dehydration causes problems but the body is designed (oops, evolved with only moderate divine intervention) to cope for long periods without water providing you’re not running round madly.

    So – the water they want you to drink is good, but probably not desperately necessary.

    What would worry me is a classroom full of kids with full bladders – doesn’t seem like an incentive to concentrate on learning to me!!

    Just a thought :-)

  132. trondhjem said,

    October 6, 2006 at 12:06 am

    Have you ever drawn a right triangle of 3cm x 4 cm x 5cm, then drawn 3 squares using the original sides of the triangle, and finally added up the resulting areas of the squares ( 9 + 16 =25) ? Nobody needs a calculator to do this!

    On the Barin Gym front, it sounds like “Amway” in disguise.
    At the start of a lesson or solo study session, settling in, having regular breaks, and not becoming dehydrated- which CAN cause headaches- helps all learners, but to apply remedial cognitive therapy as a “one-size-fits-all” classroom /learning practice is pedagogically bankrupt!

  133. dkny0007 said,

    October 24, 2006 at 6:49 pm

    Really, are you all happy to hear yourselves? Because you would like to bash the science of “brain Gym” and you havent even noted that there is peer review literature out there on this work and presently a neuroscientist is doing a world tour teaching the physiology of Brain Gym…..why dont you people do your damn research!!!!

    But hey…whatever…let your kids rot and suffer in school….what do I know.

  134. ithasgonetotheopera said,

    June 12, 2007 at 6:57 pm

    I went to Rainhill High School in Merseyside, they sent me on a brain gym day course four years ago, they sent my younger sister on it two years ago, just to add to your list!

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