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Brain Gym with Joan Barrett and Paul Hyman
Podcasts,Portrait

Sunday, January 22, 2006 - 7:00 pm

Have you ever wanted to improve your neural capabilities? Brain Gym is one of the simplest and most effective ways to improve your concentration, memory, auditory skills, and more. I spoke with Joan Barrett and Paul Hyman of Excel-ability Learning to learn some of fundamentals.

  • Show ID and Intro
  • Interview with Joan Barrett and Paul Hyman, Certified Instructors and Consultants of Brain Gym
  • Recommended Reading
    • Smart Moves: Why Learning Is Not All in your Head by Carla Hannaford
    • Making the Brain Body Connection: A Playful Guide to Releasing Mental, Physical & Emotional Blocks to Success by Sharon Promislow and Cathrine Levan

19 Comments »

Comment by Alan Balter

December 2, 2006 @ 11:52 am

Ms. Barrett and Mr. Hyman didn’t say anything about scientific research supporting the effects of Brain Gym, because there isn’t any. Furthermore, since neither of them is a medical doctor, let alone a neurologist, their opinions regarding brain development are highly suspect. In fact, there are many authorities who believe Brain Gym is a complete waste of time, a program that is presented to parents who are often quite desperate to try anything advertised an an approach that might help their children. Next time you interview ayone associated with this approach, please ask them for real evidence to support their claims.

Comment by Mark

December 2, 2006 @ 9:53 pm

Alan:

Thanks a million for your comments.

Since the interview focused on results that could be measured qualitatively, not quantitatively, you are right that there is an absence of scientific data in this show. What made this discussion interesting is that Ms. Barlett and Mr. Hyman shared first hand accounts, which I accept as real evidence, that had desirable results.

There have been many breakthroughs in history that have been initally dismissed by the scientific community and (much) later revisited to validate their merits and application. I am certain that there are just as many arguments against, as there are for, the effectiveness of Brain Gym. The best part is that you get to make an informed decision based on data and real-life accounts.

Mark

Comment by Alan Balter

December 15, 2006 @ 1:15 pm

Dear Mark,

You state that you are willing to accept “first hand” accounts regarding the effectiveness of Brain Gym as real evidence. That is your prerogative, but do you know that some of these first hand accounts (made by licensed practitioners of Brain Gym International) include helping blind children see, crippled children walk, and autistic children speak?

In my opinion, those kind of first hand accounts, without a shred of scientific evidence to back them up, are totally unprofessional and, much worse, they create false hopes in the minds of parents of children with disabilitites. If, indeed, Brain Gym exercises are that effective, why haven’t the medical community as well as professional organizations concerned with blindness, crippling conditions, and autism recognized Brain Gym and the people who make these incredible claims? Might it be that such groups require more than anecdotal accounts?

Finally, in your response, you state that there are certainly as many arguments against the effectiveness of Brain Gym as there are for it. I have to wonder why you didn’t include some of the arguments against in the article?

Alan Balter

Comment by Mark

December 15, 2006 @ 2:57 pm

Alan:

Thanks again for keeping the conversation going. I’m always impressed when my Podcasts inspire thought, conversation, and, occasionally a good debate.

I’ve heard politicians make and break promises, I’ve heard industry claim that they don’t pollute, and I’ve heard evangelists claim that they have made paraplegics walk. I never heard Joan or Paul saying anything other than Brain Gym worked in various settings that they were directly involved in as part of their personal and professional lives – including anxiety management and addiction counselling.

With respect to the angle presented in my show, I have interviewed many people about their area of interest/expertise. For my Remembrance Day episode I honoured war veterans, I did not question war; for my Steven Page interview I focused on artists standing up for their own interests, not the role that the music companies have played in creating the industry; and for my Thomas Grande interview I focused on the role of Qui Tam and not the trend towards over-litigation.

Admittedly, I have not researched all arguments about Brain Gym. I didn’t research vascular neurosurgery or instrument design before interviewing Dr. Bob Singer. The Brain Gym interview came about on a moment’s notice and I am proud of it – just as I am with all of my shows.

Mark

Comment by Alan Balter

December 15, 2006 @ 7:57 pm

Dear Mark,

Where we differ in a nutshell:

You were apparently willing to accept the claims made by advocates of Brain Gym International who have nothing more than anecdotal evidence to support those claims.

I will continue to demand controlled scientific evidence, the results of which appear in peer reviewed professional journals before I will be willing to believe any of the claims coming from Brain Gym International and their associates.

And, just as you have communicated your support for this program, I will communicate my skepticism–particularly to parents of children with disabilities, in the hope that what I tell them will dissuade them from pursuing what I consider to be a waste of time.

Finally, had you done more research on Brain Gym, perhaps you’re support wouldn’t have been so unbalanced.

,

Comment by Mark

December 15, 2006 @ 9:02 pm

Hey Alan!

Note that I accepted the direct anecdotal accounts provided by two practitioners. They related stories of how Brain Gym helped their personal lives, and in their counselling of others as part of their practices. I never endorsed the claims you identified as having been made by Brain Gym International.

If time, money and journalistic access were no issue, I suppose I could produce high-quality documentary programs in the style of CBC’s Ideas for each of my episodes. Instead, I find people that are passionate about what they do and can communicate their ideas and enthusiasm in a positive way. Then, I squeeze the discussion into a concise 10-minute format.

I don’t tell my listeners what to think or how to think it. I offer food for thought that I hope is educational and entertaining.

Mark

Comment by Alan Balter

December 16, 2006 @ 12:31 pm

Mark:

Although I have never listened to your show, my hunch is that it is both educational and entertaining. I don’t think it unreasonable, however, that balance be a part of the equation as well, particularly when the topic is a controversial one.

You may never have endorsed the claims I identified as having been made by Brain Gym International; however, you apparently never questioned them either.

And, isn’t it possible that your listeners, most of whom probably had no prior knowledge of Brain Gym, were indeed told what to think, or at least had their thinking influenced, by the passionate, but nevertheless unchallenged, statements of the people you interviewed?

It is a fact that Brain Gym is widely practiced in many school districts, clinics, and private practices both here and in England. This use, however, in no way proves its validity; in fact, there are many respected authorities who refer to it as quackery.

Comment by Mark

December 16, 2006 @ 12:37 pm

Hey Alan!

I don’t think you are able to fairly comment on the nature of the interview without having actually listened to it. Let’s pick up this conversation, again, after you’ve listened to the show.

Mark

Comment by Alan Balter

December 16, 2006 @ 1:07 pm

Hey Mark!

That’s fine with me. When and where will the interview with the Brain gym people be on the air again. It would be my pleasure to tune in.

Alan

Comment by Mark

December 16, 2006 @ 1:18 pm

Alan,

Just click on the play button for the flash player in the original post (the ‘>’ button above), or click on the download link to download a copy to your computer and listen whenever you like.

Even better, subscribe to my Podcast (using RSS or click on the iTunes button if you use iTunes – both of them are at the top right of my site, just below the header image) and you can receive each of my shows whenever they are published. I think you’ll find they are quite good. :)

Mark

Comment by Alan Balter

December 16, 2006 @ 2:53 pm

Dear Mark,

You suggested that listening to the interview would put me in a better position to comment fairly, and I have followed your suggestion.

Frankly, what I heard from Barrett and Hyman was nothing different from what other associates of Brain Gym International have been spouting for quite a while now: unsubstantiated claims clothed in pseudoscientific goggledegook from people without medical training or background in neurology.

I’m quite happy to agree with your notion that listening to the interview was a logical prerequisite to commenting fairly. But doesn’t a similar prerequisite apply to you?

Wouldn’t it had been fairer to your listeners had you done more research prior to the interview. Had you done so, you would have learned that Brain Gym is controversial to the extent that many respected authorities consider it a scam, and you might have asked the one question I would have been pleased to hear: “Can you, Ms. Barrett or Mr. Hyman, cite the results of any research studies to support your claims?”

Of course, you are free to disagree with me. All that I ask however, is that you consider the situation in which people with disabilities find themselves. Often, in their desperation, they travel from one expert to the next, and, in my opinion, the last thing they need is people giving them false hopes–people who are unable to back up their claims with hard evidence.

Finally, here’s an offer. How about interviewing someone to rebut what Barrett and Hyman have said. I’ll be happy to donate my time. Now that would really be fair!

Alan

Comment by Mark

December 18, 2006 @ 3:24 pm

Alan:

I believe that I have been fair to all of my listeners because I have never claimed to (a) be an expert on the subject of my interviews (only that they provide insight), and (b) be an investigative journalist that seeks to expose subject areas and those associated with them.

I think we can agree that a 10 minute format is decidedly unsuitable for investigative journalism and that if I were to do a follow-up interview all of my shows would be open to re-examination — I don’t believe that Brain Gym has the monopoly on controversy.

While it is a dangerous precedent to re-examine previous programs, I welcome your suggestion to try something investigative in a 10 minute format. I have a few projects on the go. Let me consider your idea and get back to you in the new year. Please understand that if I do decide against your suggestion, it will be because I don’t want to set a precedent of questioning anything I have previously published, not because of your specific concerns.

Mark

Comment by Alan Balter

December 18, 2006 @ 6:04 pm

Mark:

Sounds good to me. You have my best wishes for continued success with your show and with your career. Have a healthy and happy new year.

Alan

Comment by Mark

December 20, 2006 @ 8:10 pm

Alan:

Thanks so much for your good wishes. I am happy that we’ve met through this Podcast, and I hope that we continue to correspond.

All the best to you and yours for a happy, healthy and safe holiday season and a great 2007.

To the year that was, and the year that will be!
Mark

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October 17, 2009 @ 6:47 am

[...] Mark’s contentious podcast about Brain Gym [...]

Comment by Diane Lovejoy

August 16, 2010 @ 7:24 pm

I realize that these are not recent posts, but I’m always fascinated by Alan Balter’s need to discredit Brain Gym. Perhaps since this he has done some homework. I have read his decidedly negative emails elsewhere and now here. I wonder why, since there ARE studies in the research section of the parent Brain Gym site, and there are numerous clinical psychologists who can substantiate the benefits of the various movements, including one neurobiologist who has written several clear and detailed books documenting the physiological background and basis to Brain Gym. He seems to delight in persisting with his agenda; curious. You can’t put an educational model into a test tube, and yet there are educational model studies documenting increased academic scores from schools throughout the world after implementing a Brain Gym program. Amazing…not to mention thousands of families who have had measurable changes in both behavior and learning issues and on and on. I think Mr Balter just needs to go get first hand evidence, and as they say…put up or shut up! Don’t mean to be sharp, but that saying pretty well says it. Thank you Mark, for your patience and comments.

Comment by Alan Balter

June 2, 2011 @ 6:32 pm

June 2, 2011

The thesis of your comment seems to be that a person isn’t qualified to criticize or discredit a remedial approach unless he or she has first hand contact with said approach. First of all, how do you know that I don’t have first hand contact? Are you really saying that one isn’t free to comment negatively on an approach that says calf stretches stimulate brain development? What utter nonsense!

Furthermore, had you done your homework, you would realize that the “studies” you refer to at the Brain Gym site do not qualify as acceptable research. That’s why they’re in the “Brain Gym Journal” instead of a more objective source like a peer reviewed professional journal. Why is it, too. that none of the “improvement in academic scores around the world” you talk about has been reported in a research study?

Also, who is the neurobiologist who has written the “clear and detailed” books about Brain Gym you refer too. Why not tell me his or her name, the titles of his or her books, and whether this person has any affiliation with Brain Gym?

You should realize, as well, that the anecdotal reports of clinical psychologists and parents, no matter how convincing they may seem to you, do not constitute objective evidence. Do you know that one of the staunchest advocates of Brain Gym, a Counselor with an advanced degree, has stated, in writing, tht she has seen crippled children walk, blind children see, and autistic children speak–all because of Brain Gym? Are you willing to believe that too Madame??

As for why I persist with my agenda, my motivation isn’t curious at all. I do it for parents of children with disabilities, who, because they are so desperate to help their children, will try any approach, no matter how lacking in research documentation, no matter how expensive it is, and no matter how ridiculous the claims.

After reading your comments, I don’t think you’re sharp at all.

Comment by Alan Balter

June 22, 2011 @ 2:26 pm

Ms. Lovejoy:

Following are a few more comments youmight care to read regarding Brain Gym:

* Hyatt, K.J. 2007. Brain Gym: Building stronger brains or wishful thinking? Remedial and Special Education, Vol. 28, No. 2, 117-124.
“Educators are encouraged to become informed consumers of research and to avoid implementing programming for which there is neither a credible theoretical nor a sound research basis.”

* Howard-Jones, P., Pollard, A., et al. 2006. Neuroscience and education: Issues and opportunities. London: The Economic and Social Research Council.

“The pseudo-scientific terms that are used to explain how this works, let alone the concepts they express, are unrecognisable within the domain of neuroscience.”

* Sense about science: Brain Gym
“Brain Gym is a programme of teacher-led physical exercises which are claimed to improve the cognitive abilities of primary school children. These exercises are being taught with pseudoscientific explanations that undermine science teaching and mislead children about how their bodies work.”

* Dr Steven Novella. Brain Gym: This is your mind on pseudoscience. Neurologica Blog
“Unfortunately, Edu-K is little more than pseudoscientific wishful thinking and an example of researchers who refused to abandon their (lucrative) claims simply because they are wrong.”
Experts dismiss educational claims of Brain Gym programme
Two leading scientific societies and a charity that promotes scientific understanding have written to every local education authority in the the UK to warn that a programme of exercises being promoted to help child learning relies on “pseudoscientific explanations” and a “bizarre understanding” of how the body works.

Comment by Angela

November 14, 2011 @ 3:56 pm

wow! What a controversial discussion. I believe that we need hope, even if it ends up being false, to have something to hold on to, to believe in, even for a short time, it helps us get through one day, one day at a time. Nothing is ever a waste of time if it’s done out of love and the greater good. Often through mind over matter we are successful. For anyone to take hope away is not compassionate towards people and takes science too seriously. When did science cure cancer, or cure ADHD. So if we use brain gym to find another way then so be it. It was, after all, our choice to try it

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