Brain Gym – Name & Shame

March 18th, 2006 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, brain gym | 297 Comments »

Ben Goldacre
Saturday March 18, 2006
The Guardian

While all the proper grown up public intellectuals like Rod Liddle were getting a bee in their bonnet about Creationism being taught in a handful of British schools, I’ve accidentally stumbled upon a vast empire of pseudoscience being peddled in hundreds of everyday state schools up and down the country.

I’ll lower you in gently. It’s called Brain Gym, and it’s a string of very complicated exercises for kids to do which “enhance the experience of whole brain learning. Firstly, they’re very keen on water. Drink a glass of water before Brain Gym activities. As it is a major component of blood, water is vital for transporting oxygen to the brain.” Heaven forbid that your blood should dry out.

Is there anything else I can do to make blood and oxygen get to my brain better? Yes, an exercise called “Brain Buttons”: “Make a ‘C’ shape with your thumb and forefinger and place on either side of the breast bone just below the collar bone. Gently rub for 20 or 30 seconds whilst placing your other hand over your navel. Change hands and repeat. This exercise stimulates the flow of oxygen carrying blood through the carotid arteries to the brain to awaken it and increase concentration and relaxation.” Why? “Brain buttons lie directly over and stimulate the carotid arteries.”

Now, I’m waiting to be impressed by any kid who can stimulate his carotid arteries inside his ribcage, but it’s going to involve dissection with the sharp scissors that only mummy can use. And until that messy day, someone very mischievous and anonymous has kindly sent in the “Brain Gym Teachers Edition” to keep me entertained. This seems to be the master document behind the whole operation.

“Processed foods” they announce: “do not contain water.” This has to be the most readily falsifiable statement I’ve seen all week. Any water in soup? No: “All other liquids are processed in the body as food, and do not serve the body’s water needs.” It goes on. “Water is best absorbed by the body, when provided in frequent small amounts.” And if I drink too much in one go, will it leak out of my anus instead?

But this nonsense must all be some teeny, peripheral act of madness by a few isolated schools, surely? No. Many hundreds of UK state schools, at least. So many I couldn’t name them all in a month of columns. So many, I’ve posted a list on, so you can check your child is safe.

Because telling stories about fairies and monsters is fine, but lying to children about science is wrong. Children are predisposed to learn about the world from adults, and especially from teachers. Children listen to what you tell them: that’s the point of being a child, that’s the reason why you don’t come out fully-formed speaking English with a favourite album.

With Brain Gym, the same teacher who tells children that blood is pumped around the lungs and then the body by the heart, is also telling them that when they do “The Energizer” exercise (far too complicated to describe) then “this back and forward movement of the head increases the circulation to the frontal lobe for greater comprehension and rational thinking.”

This is not cute. If anyone fed the hypothetical child I have just invented for myself, in the name of righteous indignation, one sentence of this kind of rubbish, I would coldly and rapidly remove them from our lives.

So let’s pause. I’ve just kicked the Brain Gym Teacher’s Edition around the room for two minutes and I’m feeling minty fresh. Taking a break and doing some exercise is obviously great for improving performance. Is that all you get with Brain Gym in schools, or does it really come parcelled up with the bullshit? I’ve seen the books. I’ve seen the 12,000 google hits for Brain Gym on UK government web pages. Now I need field reports. Are you a cheeky kid? Would you like to see your teacher in print? Email me.

· Please send your bad science to

The Brain Gym Schools List is here. At the moment it’s just a list of all the schools websites (all websites ending in that have “Brain Gym” in them. I started copying them out into a separate list but it would take far too long because there are just SO many.

All the google hits for Brain Gym on UK government websites are here.

Andy Brown, a psychologist from Sheffield, has an excellent Powerpoint presentation on Brain Gym pseudoscience here, and it has also been previously discussed here.

Just to reiterate, my problem is not with stopping class to do a bit of exercise: my problem is with bonkers made up pseudoscience being peddled to children. If you are a teacher who manages to do the exercises without the pseudoscience, then well done to you (although I’m puzzled as to why you’d bother with Brain Gym instead of any other kind of exercise break).

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! ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

297 Responses

  1. Mikel said,

    March 29, 2006 at 11:18 am

    Geoff Roberts is absolutely correct, vituperative personal attacks add nothing to the debate. they do however make it more fun to read.

    Keep up the good work Ben.

  2. Adam said,

    March 30, 2006 at 6:57 am

    Geoff, I also believe in Australia, though I’ve never been. If such a large land mass did not exist to counter balance the weight of Europe, the Earth would wobble dangerously on its axis, eventually falling out of its orbit and plummeting into the Sun.

    But disaster awaits. Australia is moving north at a rate of 5cm per year. Fortunately I head up a company that aims to drive a giant titanium spike through the centre of Australia; pinning it into position. This is where you can all help. Such a project needs massive governmental support. Please lobby your MP to “Spike Australia”.

    Regards, Adam

  3. Geoff Roberts said,

    March 30, 2006 at 7:49 am

    Hi Adam – Hah, Hah, Hah!

    I’m trying to bring coolish rational thought to a difficulkt argument, so thanks for your amusing interlude. At least yours clearly IS menat for amusement, unlike many of the other posts!

  4. Delster said,

    March 30, 2006 at 8:34 am


    there is no difficulty in this argument. Drink of water and exercise = good. Telling kids that water is absorbed through the roof of their mouths and therefore into their brains = bad

  5. John Hawcock said,

    March 30, 2006 at 8:46 am

    Where did the BrainGrm(R) people get the notion that water is absorbed through the roof of the mouth anyway? Do they not swallow when they drink?

  6. radar said,

    March 30, 2006 at 9:05 am

    Geoff, how could you possibly miss that “There is no contradiction here of course where Brain Gym instructors are concerned because the instructor’s mouth and anus are one and the same orifice!” (PV, post 254) is quite clearly a joke, whereas you are happy to thank Adam for his ‘amusing interlude’. Are you for real?

    As Delster (and many posts, passim) quite rightly points out, there is no particularly difficult argument to be had here. Thanks for your efforts in trying to bring rational thought to his argument, but I’ll think you’ll find it’s pretty much already here. Would you happen to be a Brain Gym adherent?

  7. shug said,

    April 1, 2006 at 9:39 pm

    Shug (163) and others comment adversely on modern trends in education and new ideas. Whilst some might be dubious (I’m not going to fuel the debate by naming any) some may actually be helpful.

    Well now, Geoff Roberts, climb down off the fence. Which are dubious and which are helpful? The whole purpose of a forum like this is to “fuel debate” – otherwise, why are you chipping in?
    I’m not too impressed by your self-righteous “I am really Geoff Roberts Schtick

  8. shug said,

    April 1, 2006 at 10:21 pm

    Frankly, I dont give a bugger if people use a pseudonym – it’s what they say that counts. I’ve taught in a Scottish secondary school for the past 30 years. One advantage of the Scottish School system is that we are spared school governors (I’m sure that you, unlike so many English school governors, are actually qualified to pontificate about education).
    “Do Shug and His/her likes teach our children to reject new ideas or to listen, question, evaluate and make their own decisions”. Yup, Shug and his/her like does. A more relevant question is, does the current school system with its endless preoccupation with quality assessment, normative assessment and similar managerial bollocks, do so? Well, nope, it don’t. What it does is cow and discipline teachers into accepting this crap despite their experience and knowledge crying out against it. ” As a school governor I am constantly disappointed by the number of teachers who do not appear to be prepared to do what they encourage their students to do – learn.” My experience – and I’m sure it’s far more limited than yours – is that what students, and teachers, are encouraged to do is to work towards assessment achievement, and bugger any fancy notions of learning/excitement/iconoclasm/
    scepticism/education. In this cretinous, soulless travesty of education, it’s small wonder that idiocies like Brain Gym take root – the ground has already been made fertile.

  9. Mum's the word said,

    April 3, 2006 at 11:09 am

    Brain Gym is bollocks and so is the kinaesthetic learning claptrap that my son is exposed to at his grammar school (where surely they should know better?). The only outcome of his recent ‘learn to learn’ day at school was that some idiot told him he’s clever enough for his brain to do several things at once. The outcome is full blast heavy metal through the homework hour because he thinks he can listen to music and concentrate on his French verbs at the same time.

    In my day . . . we had a teacher who made us do ‘physical jerks’ for five minutes when our concentration levels started to flag in the complete silence of the 1960s classroom. Our head teacher made us all (yes, the whole school, even the fat girl whose Mum had sent in a note saying her knees were too weak for PE) run around the playground five times before we came in from lunch. It helped clear the mind for an afternoon of endless handwriting practice.

    And as for water. We had a third of a pint of free school milk at break time – luke warm in summer, frozen in winter. Everyone drank plain old tap water which was supplied in water jugs on the table at lunch times and that was it . . . no juice, no squash, no fizzy drinks. We even managed to last from lunch time to end of school without the need for a water bottle by our side.

    Funnily enough our brains didn’t shrivel and some of us even managed to pass some exams. We may even have been a bit fitter for our physical jerks. But then there’s no money to be made out of old-fashioned fresh air, exercise and a jug of water.

  10. Hatter said,

    April 4, 2006 at 3:44 pm

    Humans can do more than one thing at a time. However having music playing is really a second, peripheral activity that does not require attention nor distract from a primary activity.

  11. Hatter said,

    April 4, 2006 at 3:50 pm

    Lying down improved my literacy levels. I do most of my reading lying down 🙂

  12. Hatter said,

    April 4, 2006 at 3:52 pm

    The point is Andrew Ross that you could do any silly physical activities. Children (and some of us adults) have short attention spans and their natural learning method is to do one thing intensely for a short time, then move to something else – this is in fact a highly efficient way to learn even if many adults view it as chaotic. I can’t believe there are institutions imposing lectures longer than 40 minutes on adults, never mind children.

  13. Hatter said,

    April 4, 2006 at 3:53 pm

    I think the term Human Resources better reflects the way companies really view their employees. The same way they view whatever inanimate materials they may use as part of their business.

    Josie of course we don’t know everything there is to know. That is the point of scientific enquiry.

    There is no western science, there is just science.

    Scientists are human they will cling to their sacred cows, but show them evidence that their cow is really a sheep and they will accept that it is a sacred sheep. This is what differentiates science from superstitions like religion, homeopathy and other drivel.

  14. Hatter said,

    April 4, 2006 at 4:09 pm

    Perhaps the problem with a field of study like say English literature is that everything is just made up whereas in science you have to interpret the real physical world. You can interpret a text any way you like if you can come up with some sort of justification. Although I found that most lecturers like you to simply regurgitate their pet theory on what the text is about. Of course it is never about what it obviously appears to be about. That particularly drove me nuts – the constant dissection of and reading meaning into every text. I took it as an extra course in first year because I had a gap in my science timetable – I’m glad I dropped it – those who actually did this as their degree appeared to lose the ability to simply enjoy a good story with interesting characters.

    I actually enjoyed English set works at school – if the book was boring I didn’t actually have to read it, just know something about the characters and story, which I could pick up in class or by seeing the movie :-), enough to justify any interpretation I might present in an exam. I always did well on that and always made it up on the spot. Really easy. I did read a lot at school, probably 30 or more books a year, but just not the usually boring stuff they assigned for English.

  15. Kim said,

    April 6, 2006 at 3:57 pm

    For those who haven’t seen it, there’s a very entertaining debate going on about brain gym at‘%20Corner/&post=2211723

    Brain gym instructor Alan Heath kicks it off by responding to Ben’s original article.

  16. pv said,

    April 7, 2006 at 6:32 pm

    Geoff Roberts, if you’re still about, I’ve finally got back to this thread and caught up with your humourless and vaguely sinister comments. Very sorry to have offended you but offence, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. I can’t help thinking that you are complaining not so much on your own behalf but on behalf of all those you wish to protect from the “corrupting” influence of people like me; i.e. your inferiors.
    Now, I have no idea if you really are Geoff Roberts. You can protest all you like that you are, but I am none the wiser. I am PV. I really am. And I only post in this forum as PV. P is the first letter of my first name and I’ll leave you to guess the rest. In fact I don’t think it’s a very good idea to post in on-line forums using one’s real or full name, for rather mundane reasons – for example, I don’t want over-sensitive individuals turning up on my doorstep demanding, on pain of death, I retract one of my sarcastic comments about Brain Gym instructors.
    To be honest, people like “Brain Gym Instructor and Consultant Alan Heath” deserve all the criticism and ridicule that is heaped on them. They are either fools or liars, or (if the following link is anything to go by) both:'%20Corner/&post=2211723
    Both Alan Heath and Barry Pavier knowingly and consistently misrepresent Ben Goldacre’s criticism of Brain Gym (this is call lying in my part of the world), and both gloss over or completely ignore the central point of the criticism, which is the pseudoscientific garbage used in order to justify Brain Gym. The pseudoscience and unsupported claims of Brain Gym regarding research, for which there is no (i.e. zero) peer reviewed material, are all part of the sales patter used in order to extract payment for what amounts to a bit of exercise and a drink of water. Messrs Heath and Pavier both appear to have a vested financial interest in Brain Gym. Both resemble snake oil salesmen. Both are worthy of the utmost contempt,
    1. for being liars – as described above,
    2. for being pedlars of voodoo,
    3. for promoting public ignorance, and
    4. all of the above for profit.
    Mr Roberts, or whoever you are, do you have a financial interest in Brain Gym. Or are you located in the vicinity of Sheffield University?

  17. Ben Goldacre said,

    April 7, 2006 at 6:54 pm

    incidentally, i see there was some debate above as to whether i personally do think it’s reasonable and proportionate to use the death penalty for people who deliberately lie about science to children in order to make money: the answer is yes, i do.

  18. thirdparty said,

    April 9, 2006 at 3:10 am

    I have just completed my own trial into the benefits of stimulating blood flow to my brain by forming a c-shape with my hands and rubbing my chest either side of my breastbone, under the collar bone for five minutes which resulted in severe chaffing of the nipples. I followed up this experiment by doing the same over my carotid arteries, which you all know lie in the neck, and have just regained consciousness.

  19. Melissa said,

    April 9, 2006 at 5:21 am

    Ben, rather than death penalty, I think Geoff Roberts was thinking you were suggesting the vigilante murder of people peddling pseudoscience to children.

    Of course I don’t condone vigilante murder, but I do enjoy graphic novels about it. Shall we call this one “‘B’ for Bad Science” ? 🙂

  20. Janet W said,

    April 9, 2006 at 5:14 pm

    “Ben, rather than death penalty, I think Geoff Roberts was thinking you were suggesting the vigilante murder of people peddling pseudoscience to children.”

    Yes of course! BadScience fatwas!

  21. Ben Goldacre said,

    April 9, 2006 at 6:21 pm

    tricky. we would need a scientist state beyond the reach of incitement laws to issue these edicts.

  22. Melissa said,

    April 10, 2006 at 4:58 pm

    Anyone got a private island they’re not using?

  23. JQH said,

    April 12, 2006 at 10:53 am

    On the naming and shaming front: I checked out the website of the school my step-daughter is due to start at in September. Some of their students toured South Bank University in May last year – part of the tour included a Brain Gym workshop. If Higher Education establishments are falling for this rubbish then we really are doomed.


  24. Jotaf said,

    August 20, 2006 at 2:59 pm

    I’d just like to say that, I can’t wait til someone mentions this to me in person so I can laugh hard in his face for like 10 minutes.

  25. Mild Peril » Brain Gym said,

    November 14, 2006 at 10:33 pm

    […] I had heard about Brain Gym before on an excellent website called Bad Science, written by Guardian journalist, Ben Goldacre, where it was described as “a vast empire of pseudoscience“. The teacher had the children do an exercise called “Brain Buttons”, best described by Ben : Is there anything else I can do to make blood and oxygen get to my brain better? Yes, an exercise called “Brain Buttons”: “Make a ‘C’ shape with your thumb and forefinger and place on either side of the breast bone just below the collar bone. Gently rub for 20 or 30 seconds whilst placing your other hand over your navel. Change hands and repeat. This exercise stimulates the flow of oxygen carrying blood through the carotid arteries to the brain to awaken it and increase concentration and relaxation.” Why? “Brain buttons lie directly over and stimulate the carotid arteries.” […]

  26. Agnostic said,

    March 8, 2007 at 1:48 pm

    It’s all very well with the sceptical attitude and the witty remarks and the cynicism, but I have yet to hear a valid argument against Braingym as a science and have yet to find scientific studies that show that it does not work.

    You see, preconceived ideas about how the world should work are not in my opinion impressive enough to diminish my belief in the effectiveness Braingym. I’ve come to understand and experience Braingym as a focused means of stimulating the brain. Much of this stimulation comes from the sensation of -indeed- rubbing your fingers in a certain area of your body.

    You see, science has proven that parts of the brain associated with specific functions tend to “fire” when a certain area of the body is massaged. The other way around works too. Athletes muscles “fire” when a brain thinks of a (series of) motion(s). It is today how athletes train for certain extremely difficult performances.

    In conclusion I would like to suggest you keep a somewhat open mind to “pseudo science”, because you may think you know everything, but so did the people who “knew” the world was flat.

  27. Maureen said,

    March 25, 2007 at 1:09 am

    What really annoys me is the fact that the criticism expressed by people in these entries is not based on any kind of actual experience with Brain Gym.

    If you have neither had any training in the subject nor experienced the beneficial effects of using the exercises yourself, you cannot be sufficiently competent to express an opinion.

    The fact is that Brain Gym is part of the science of Kinesiology and Kinesiology stems to a great degree from Traditional Chinese Medicine which has been more than successful for over 4000 years – indicating that it must have something going for it.

    If you had seen children getting bad marks due to stress and mental blocks and then using brain gym to reduce the stress and indeed eliminate the mental blocks and go on to get top marks then you would realise that your arguments are superfluous.

    For a lot of children – and indeed adults – brain gym works.

    Just because you are biased doesn´t mean you have the right to deny others this possibility.

  28. Dangerous Intersection » Blog Archive » Brain Gym: Another edu-tainment fad said,

    May 19, 2007 at 2:50 pm

    […] I saw on the local news that the Brain Gym® program is being adopted (purchased) by some local schools. You may want to read what the Bad Science website has to say. Their main complaint is that it claims to be scientific, but has all the hallmarks of pseudoscience in both its structure and its teachings. […]

  29. Napka’s Top Science » Brain Gym - Name & Shame said,

    November 17, 2007 at 1:54 pm

    […] read more | digg story […]

  30. Are you in your right mind? « Experiments in Living said,

    November 23, 2007 at 12:23 am

    […] been popular in primary schools here in Britain over the last few years, but is not without its detractors due to some of the claims made about improving cognitive ability by doing exercises like patting […]

  31. afromoose said,

    November 25, 2007 at 11:28 pm

    I think that BrainGym TM (!) works to be honest.

    I think the way they’re explaining it is wrong – probably ‘pseudoscience’ as people are fond of saying. But I think at the heart of it is some good practice.

    I also think that there is something of great value in the kinesiological (sorry I don’t know the correct terminology) techniques they are using – being a biological scientist and also doing yoga regularly, I can say that there are many things that fall within the realm of human experience but beyond the realm of ‘scientific’ method, which by it’s virtues relies on the availability of good quality empirical data and the necessary tools to measure it. I can’t measure my ‘chakras’ physically for example, but conceptualising the human body in this way has it’s practical merits, and regardless of science’s ability to comment eitherway on this, it remains a practice that has tangible and significant, but subjective, benefits.

    The system that they use in schools that identifies kinaesthetic, auditory, visual and read/write learners is also seemingly pseudoscientific. What exactly the terms refer to and the specifics of the theory are nebulous – worrying especially because this system is the basis of the entire national curriculum which was introduced in 1991. However, the system does represent an attempt to make teachers aware of the diversity of learning styles that may be present in their classroom and to have at their disposal all the available methods of teaching their learners. Maybe for a teacher that’s trying to overcome barriers in a practical rather than a theoretical sense, the ‘scientific truth’ of the matter takes a lower priority to the evidence right in front of their eyes that this stuff helps.

    It seems to me also, that the stuff being branded (as BrainGym) and simplified is essential to it being passed on as a consistent idea that doesn’t meet with continual questioning, cynicism and interference.

  32. Fitness » Brain Gym - Name & Shame said,

    December 11, 2007 at 6:10 am

    […] Fitness created an interesting post today on Brain Gym – Name & ShameHere’s a short outline […]

  33. Brain Training vs. Brain Gym « Learning Games said,

    December 21, 2007 at 10:00 pm

    […] exercise bit seems to work, though the pseudo-science behind it has been criticized, however. See here). A third, control, group was also assessed – making the study reasonably rigorous, although some […]

  34. Brain Training vs Brain Gym « Gaming & Learning said,

    February 21, 2008 at 10:15 pm

    […] exercise bit seems to work, though the pseudo-science behind it has been criticized, however. See here). A third, control, group was also assessed – making the study reasonably rigorous, although some […]

  35. Brain gym - coming to a primary school in the UK near you! « Homo economicus’ Weblog said,

    April 2, 2008 at 11:31 pm

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  36. Brain Gym loses its trousers (figuratively) « Dr Aust’s Spleen said,

    April 8, 2008 at 1:16 am

    […] ludicrous set of pseudo-babble explanations. And posts from anonymous teachers back when BadScience discussed Brain Gym suggested that they were made, on pain of dressing down and even disciplinary measures from the […]

  37. Fop said,

    April 24, 2008 at 3:18 pm

    “I think the way they’re explaining it is wrong – probably ‘pseudoscience’ as people are fond of saying. But I think at the heart of it is some good practice.”

    The problem is seeing a reaction and just making up an “explanation” is much more to do with religion than science.

    Dressing that “explanation” up in pseudo-science is deception and hypocrisy of the worst kind.

    There may be some benefits (although they are like to be the same as any form of coordinated group light exercise), but the explanation (“brain buttons” and such) is just plain rubbish and you’re not helping or education kids by teaching them rubbish, I’m afraid.

  38. Brain Gym – A pile of rubbish?- Teaching News said,

    September 4, 2009 at 7:04 pm

    […] agrees with Brain Gym.  I’ve come across an interesting article this morning on the Bad Science blog stating that Brain Gym is a "a vast empire of pseudoscience being peddled in hundreds of […]

  39. More Brain Gym?- Teaching News said,

    September 4, 2009 at 7:05 pm

    […] the bad-science blog Philip Beadle has written another critique of the science behind it.  The original article provoked a lot of controversy between teachers and scientists and I’m sure that this will as […]

  40. Exam Results « Data – Where is it? said,

    September 5, 2009 at 9:42 am

    […] of schools are teaching something called “Brain Gym”, which has been wonderfully exposed by Ben Goldacre (if you don’t own his book already, buy it). In it he gives some examples of the Brain Gym […]

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  42. Great Learning State = Focus + Physiology | Brain Friendly Trainer said,

    January 29, 2010 at 10:19 am

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  43. When our passion clouds our judgement | Brain Friendly Trainer said,

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  44. Here’s what I’d do: | PSP-3003 Science of Education 2011/12 said,

    March 2, 2012 at 10:42 pm

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  45. Bucharest Life | The Romanian education system, again: Religion | Bucharest said,

    March 10, 2012 at 8:37 am

    […] that the time could be better used teaching children something else (although not, I hasten to add, Brain Gym: the pseudo-scientific bullshit which kids in many – far too many – UK primary schools are […]

  46. Learning Styles | sputniksteve said,

    June 5, 2013 at 11:28 pm

    […] Goldacre, B. (2006) Brain Gym – Name & Shame [online]. Available from: […]

  47. RKC said,

    October 7, 2013 at 4:12 am

    Hi im 12 and im purposely doing bad punctuation to speed up the process of typing. Luckily, i live in australia so i don’t get taught mind-numbing brain gym. Mr Goldacre, if u know Patrick Holford of Gillian McKeith’s email could u tell me so i can annoy them with science? Thanks