Tag Archives: research

Theories Behind Brain Gym


Dennison, creator and founder of Brain Gym International developed the program based on three basic theories:

1.  Orton’s Theory of Cerebral Dominance:

Research developed by Samuel Orton during his studies in the 1930s explored the possibility that reading disabilities were connected to hemispheric indecision in the brain (Hyatt, 2007).  Hemispheric indecision refers to equal amount of skill in both right and left hemispheres and is often connected to one’s handedness (Mayringer & Wimmer, 2002).

2.  Doman Delacato Theory of Development

Doman Delacato theory of development uses neurological repatterning to rewire the brain in instances where an individual may have missed a fundamental stage of development. The assumption is that by mastering movements that imitate early developmental stages (eg. crawling), one is able to repattern the neurons to leave the child “neurologically intact and ready to acquire academic skills (Hyatt, 2007).

3.  Perceptual Motor Training

Perceptual Motor Training suggests that learning problems are the result of the inability to incorporate visual, motor, and auditory skills, and uses physical activities which require coordination of these sensory skills in order to improve cognitive functions (Hyatt, 2007).

The Benefits and the Research

  Let’s see…

According to Spaulding, et. al (2010), Brain Gym claims that Dennison, founder of Brain Gym, states it has a “sound basis in neuroscience”(2006, p.1).  Brain Gym International prefers evidence of the program’s success be derived from countless anecdotes and personal testimonies claiming amazing results by BG users. 

UshaGoswami (2006) explains that Dennison tries to convince the lack of research is the result of a “gulf between neuroscience and education”.  His seminars simply “bridge the gulf” while neuroscience catches up withdevelopment of criteria for identifying who could benefit from this program.

Kathleen Vail’s in the American School Board Journal (March, 2006) discusses the research connecting physical activity and fitness to academic success.  She states, “There is absolutely an association with grades and fitness levels…math in particular” (p. 31).  Furthermore, she makes reference to Brain Gym International as “exercises that focus, relax, and stimulate the brain” (p. 32. ) Within the article, author Carla Hannford compares Brain Gym movements with those of Tai Chi, that “twisting and crossing arms or legs…encourage the brain’s right and left hemispheres to work together” (p. 32).  She claims a significant change in students’ behaviour as calmer and focused.

None of the above examples are research based on the effectiveness of Brain Gym.  Actually this author was an unsuccessful at finding empirical evidence supporting Brain Gym’s claims.  At best, anecdotal examples referred to using Brain Gym strategies more for classroom management.

Hyatt, K. J. (2007, April 1). Brain gym:  Buildng stronger brains or wishful thnking? Remedial and Special Education, 28(2), 117-124.

Spaulding, L. S., Mostert, M. P., & Beam, A. P. (2010, March 1). Is brain gym an effective educational intervention? Exceptionality, 18(1), 18-30.

Usha, G. (2006, April 1). Neuroscience and education:  From research to practice? Nature Reviews Neurocience, 7, 406-413. Retrieved September 27, 2011, from http://www.nature.com/reviews/neuro.

Vail, K. (2006, March). Mind and body.American School Board Journal, pp. 30-33.

Caution: Brain Gym Ahead!

The Research

Overall, the research points in one clear direction:  While the activities involved in the Brain Gym International program may not be harmful in and of themselves, they do not produce the desired results which BGI claims, such as balancing hemispheres of the brain or re-establishing “brain organization for reading and writing” (Howard-Jones, 2007).  The harm exists mainly promoting the idea certain brain mechanisms can be impacted and learning facilitated by simple, physical activity.  This is simply unsubstantiated.

The Principles:

“Brain Gym® International is committed to the principle that moving with intention leads to optimal learning” (“What is”, 2011).

A March 2010 study in the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine analyzed a number of studies which were done to assess the impact of physical activity on overall achievement and came to the conclusion that “the introduction of sport or physical education has no striking affect on GPA” (Trudeau & Sheppard), but noted that the addition of physical activity to daily routines was advantageous to a child’s healthy development without interfering with learning.  As well, a study of DDAT, an exercise and movement program designed to help students with dyslexia-related disorders was unable to support the conclusions of the researchers-namely that movement and exercise would positively effect a child’s reading ability. (Snowling & Hulme, 2003).  The research was flawed and the interpretation of the results inaccurate.

Other studies have examined more closely the theoretical basis from which Brain Gym was developed.  Samuel Orton theorized in his 1937, Reading,Writing and Speech Difficulties, that reading difficulties may be caused, in part,  by the lack of hemispheric preference.   Dennison loosely and vaguely connected Brain Gym to Orton’s studies and suggested remediation(Hyatt, 2007).   Maywringer & Wimmer tried to replicate the findings of a study which supported Orton’s theory.  However, their findings were contrary to these earlier studies which supported Orton’s theory. (2003).   The researchers found that individuals with no particular preference of handedness showed no difference in academic performance abilities when tested. The study used only boys expecting to find more instances of reading and spelling difficulties.  This was not the case.  In some cases, their findings showed that students with hemispheric indifference actually scored higher in certain tests than individuals with a moderate preference, and relatively no difference to those with distinct right or left hand preference (Maywringer & Wimmer, 2002).  A recent qualitative review by Keith J. Hyatt of research on cerebral dominance has found that there is no significant or valid evidence to connect this theory with learning difficulties and “this line of theoretical support recognized by the developers of Brain Gym has also failed the rigors of scientific inquiry” (2007).

“Brain Gym® movements, exercises, or activities refer to the original 26 Brain Gym movements, sometimes abbreviated as the 26. These activities recall the movements naturally done during the first years of life when learning to coordinate the eyes, ears, hands, and whole body” (“What is”, 2011).

A main focus of Brain Gym’s program suggests by performing exercises and movements one is able to repattern neurological pathways which may be the cause future (or current) learning difficulties (Howard-Jones, 2007).  This regime has also been studied a number of times and results remain inconclusive (Hyatt, 2007).  As far back as 1966, these remediation exercises have been tested without any conclusive empirical evidence to support the claims (Robbins, 1966; Stone & Pielsick, 1969), over 20 years before the development of Brain Gym.

“Many of the Brain Gym activities, such as the Owl, the Elephant, and Alphabet 8s, were developed from Paul’s knowledge of the relationship of movement to perception and the impact of these on fine-motor and academic skills. Others were learned during his training as a marathon runner, his work with developmental optometrists doing vision training” (“History”, 2011).

Finally, Dennison and Dennison based many of Brain Gym activities on Perceptual Motor Training and once again, studies have failed to prove, empirically, that this is effective for improving cognitive and academic skills.  Kavale and Mattson evaluated 180 studies which evaluated this as an intervention and found no empirical evidence to support the relationship between PMT and academic and cognitive skills.  Furthermore, a number of the studies’ methodologies and statistical analyses were faulty,  and instances of negative correlation indicate possible loss instead of academic gain for students receiving this intervention (1983).

Hyatt’s 2007 literature review discusses Brain Gym’s incorporation of vision therapy as part of PMT.  In the article is a summary of organizations including the American Academy of Pediatrics, The American Academy of Ophthalmology and American Assocation for Pediatrics and Strabismus  which “issued a joint statement strongly discrediting vision therapy” and clarifying that there is no evidence to suggest that learning disabilities are related to vision problems, and therefore cannot be corrected with these interventions (Hyatt, 2007).


Howard-Jones, Paul. (2007).  Neuroscience and Education:  Issues and Opportunities – A Commentary by the Teaching and learning Research Programme.  Retrieved October 7, 2011 from http://gtcni.openrepository.com/gtcni/bitstream/2428/12735/1/Neuroscience.pdf

Hyatt, Keith J.  (2007). Brain Gym:  Building stronger brains or wishful thinking?  Remedial and Special Education, 28(2), 117-124.

Kavale, K.& Mattson, D.  (1983). “One jumped off the balance beam”:  Meta-Analysis of Perceptual Motor Training. Journal of Learning Disabilities. 16(3), 165-173. doi: 10.1177/002221948301600307

Maywringer, H. & Wimmer, H.  (2002).  No deficits at the point of hemispheric indecision.  Neuropsychologia. 40(7), 701-704.

Robbins, M.  (1966).  The Delacato interpretation of neurological organization.  Reading Research Quarterly, 1(3), 57-78.

Snowling, M.J., & Hulme, C.  (2003). A critique of claims from Reynolds, Nicolson & Hambly (2003) that DDAT is an effective treatment for children with reading difficulties – ‘Lies, damned lies and inappropriate statistics?’  Dyslexia, 9(50), 127-133.

Stone, M. & Pielstick, N. L. (1969).  Effectiveness of Delacato treatment with kindergarten children.  Psychology in the Schools 6(1), 63-68. doi: 10.1002/1520 6807(196901)

History (2011).  Brain Gym International.  Retrieved October 8, 2011 from http://braingym.org/history   What is brain gym?  (2011).  Brain Gym International.  Retrieved October 8, 2011 from http://braingym.org/about