Dec 07 2007

Applied Kinesiology and Self Deception

Take a look at this video. (Thanks to Jake Hall for sending me the link.) It is a sincere demonstration of an “alternative” modality known as applied kinesiology (AK), dreamed up by Chiropractor Dr. George J. Goodheart, Jr. . According to an AK website:

Applied kinesiology (AK) is a form of diagnosis using muscle testing as a primary feedback mechanism to examine how a person’s body is functioning. When properly applied, the outcome of an AK diagnosis will determine the best form of therapy for the patient. Since AK draws together the core elements of many complementary therapies, it provides an interdisciplinary approach to health care.

Without putting to fine a point on it, AK is utter nonsense – as close as we get in CAM to pure magical thinking. It is based upon no legitimate biological, physiological, or medical principles or evidence. The basic concept is that the muscles of the body will become weak when challenged in some way. As the video shows, the challenge can be from being in contact with a physical substance or from just thinking about a person, thing, or statement. If the substance it healthful or the person is good or the statement is true, then the muscles will remain strong. If they are toxic, bad, false, then the muscles will display weakness. How does this work, you ask? Well it all has to do with balance and energy. In other words – the same vague pseudoscientific mumbo jumbo that is common to so many CAM modalities. The legitimate science behind it is nonexistent.

The video is supposed to be a demonstration of AK. What it is really a demonstration of is self-deception, and as such it is very interesting. The subject seems to really believe that his strength is decreasing when he says the name “Hitler.” The lesson should be clear – the human capacity for self-deception is almost limitless. Therefore, we cannot trust anyone’s subjective experience.

This is a critical concept that skeptics appreciate and many believers (whether in the paranormal, spiritual, or some other pseudoscience) simply do not. There is a tendency to naively grossly underestimate the human capacity for self-deception. Of course, the only remedy for this human frailty is carefully controlled observation – or science. When properly blinded tests of AK are conducted, the effect disappears.

On a side note, from looking at the videos it is possible to distinguish genuine weakness from decreased effort. This is a distinction that clinical neurologists (like myself) have to make all the time. If a muscle is genuinely weak, it will behave differently from a muscle that is not weak but where the person is giving less than full effort – for whatever reason, and regardless of whether or not they realize they are giving less than full effort. We will then describe such weakness as “effort-dependent” or “effort-limited.” One key feature of effort-limited weakness is that it tends to give way. In other words, the strength is greater at first but then will suddenly decrease or give way. You can actually see this characteristic of effort-limited weakness in the video.

In other words – the weakness is not real, it is due to decreased effort on the part of the subject due to (apparently) his belief that his muscles should be weak under the proper circumstances. In other words – self deception.

AK is an easy target for skepticism. It is fairly straightforward magical thinking. But one of the advantages of scientific skepticism as an area of inquiry is that it looks at all fringe, controversial, or pseudoscientific claims and therefore can see patterns among them. Therefore, we can apply the lessons learned from the more obvious nonsense when confronting other controversial or implausible claims that are more complex. Understanding the power and nature of self-deception informs our assessment of other claims that are dependent upon subjective human elements.

So watch the video and learn the true lessons it has to teach – humans are simply not equipped to achieve reliable knowledge about the world without the rigors of science.

16 responses so far

16 Responses to “Applied Kinesiology and Self Deception”

  1. ellazimmon 07 Dec 2007 at 7:59 am

    I could only watch until the “I am a woman” question although I almost bailed when the “subject” confirmed that his polarity was okay. Since people like this make money I can only assume that there are lots and lots of folks out there who, when they hear someone use a word which they don’t know what it means or doesn’t mean (at least in context), just trust the nice young man to know what he’s doing.

    I know we should differentiate between those who are frauds and those who are true believers but do we have to give the benefit of the doubt to those who purvey obvious stupidity no matter how sincere they are?

    Run away! Run away!

  2. stands2reasonon 07 Dec 2007 at 11:53 am

    Interesting. Is this what we would call the ideomotor effect, or is this guy consciously trying to defraud us?

    Also, Dr. Novella, you said you could se the difference betweent the two types of muscles. What does this difference look like?

  3. smperleon 07 Dec 2007 at 12:03 pm

    Here is are links to two articles on the problems with AK muscle testing.

    A good explanation of what may be the phenomenon behind AK can be found in this paper:

    Hyman R. The Mischief-Making of Ideomotor Action. Scientific Review of Alt Med. 1999;3(2):34-43.

  4. Steven Novellaon 07 Dec 2007 at 12:41 pm

    I don’t think this is an ideomotor effect. I think it is lack of consistent effort in providing resistance. The characteristic you can see in the video is called “give-way” – the stop and go appearance of the arm motion when the subject is allegedly weak. This does not look genuine.

  5. smperleon 07 Dec 2007 at 5:24 pm

    Having spent considerable time and money learning the technique a LONG time ago I respectfully differ on the intent but the result is the same.

    I think this is how it works but the differences are not though conscious effort of the operator. I can assure you that I believed that this was a genuine diagnostic test. I was not taught to fake it.

    The “weak” muscle is one that the operator actually pushes on. The operator always has the mechanical advantage so can always “win” and one sees the “give-way.” or the so-called knife-clasp phenomenon. On the other hand, the “strong” muscle is one in which the operator does an isometric contraction. Thus, there is an illusion (to the operator and the subject) of more effort on the operator’s part for a “strong” muscle then the weak one.

    I firmly believe that those who do this are blind to what’s happening. I know that I was until someone who was a skeptical and detailed observer noted the differences for me. That was more than 20 years ago.

    Then I think the clinical effectiveness can be attributed to various forces

    Placebo – although often these doctors are the doc of last resort so why didn’t the placebo work for the other doctors?

    Blink – the doc uses their CAM therapy after using what Gladwell talked about in his book Blink to decide which treatment. Then they use their muscle testing to “prove” their treatment method is clinically appropriate (which might also help with a better placebo effect).

    Natural history

    And maybe others.

  6. Fred Cunninghamon 07 Dec 2007 at 5:53 pm

    I recall some woo-woo on a PBS fund raiser promoting nonsense along these lines. His name escapes me but it was something like Dwyer.

  7. daijiyobuon 07 Dec 2007 at 6:41 pm

    Here’s an AK practitioner example: Fairfield, Connecticut chiropractor Dr. C. DeMarco

    — [DC UBCNM; {“a member of the adjunct faculty, clinical sciences at the University of Bridgeport College of Naturopathic Medicine” and of the “University of Bridgeport, Alumni Board of Directors”}(from her bio. at] —

    of Black Rock Holistic Health Center who states about AK [at

    “[AK] draws on the principles of traditional Chinese medicine and can evaluate body function through the muscle-meridian relationship. It can also establish connections between imbalances, put them in order of priority and determine the most effective treatment […] it can, for example: increase energy and vitality, prevent illness, improve posture, relieve physical pain and tension, defuse stress and the causes of stress, heal traumas, enhance brain function and co-ordination, discover individual nutritional needs, identify food and environmental sensitivities, find and clear underlying causes of energy blocks/imbalances/diseases […] as the owner and founder of the my goal and mission is to integrate the treatment of chiropractic, acupuncture, nutrition, physical therapy, and homeopathy in order to provide the patient with the highest degree of success in treating their acute and chronic pain [she also is an Upledger craniosacral therapist].”

    Quite a DIAGNOSTIC and therapeutic arsenal: but, since the meridians are myths, and the vitalistic / animatistic / animistic energy she speaks of (chi or qi) is a myth, and homeopathy and craniosacral therapy are farcical delusions…YOU judge how sound this arsenal is. I’m not going to mention the chiropractic, since I live a minute from the UB campus, and those guys go ape over criticism…

  8. daijiyobuon 07 Dec 2007 at 10:34 pm

    Also, I believe that commenter smperle is a former professor of mine from the University of Bridgeport College of Naturopathic Medicine [UBCNM]: “Stephen M. Perle” ( ).

    A fond memory: I remember Dr. Perle handing me Hyman’s [?] criticism of AK (similar to in fall 2000.

    The funny thing is that here Perle is offering a critical view of AK…

    while we were passing his office to pick up Goodheart’s AK text that was required for a UBCNM ‘manipulation’ course taught by Dr. Ferraro, who had the office next door!

    Reminds me of those two guys in the film Brazil fighting over that desk shared through a wall.

    I find Dr. Perle’s action there both bold and absurd: it didn’t begin my criticism of naturopathy…but it was important. It was bold because here is someone inside the College of Naturopathic Medicine [then] as an instructor criticizing the very pseudoscience crappola naturopathy finds no problem calling “scientific medicine” and ‘able to survive scientific scrutiny.’ It was absurd because there’s that old adage about ‘biting the hand that feeds you,’ and a certain flavor of hypocrisy still taints that memory.

    Later, Dr. Perle would coauthor a paper (see stating: “vitalism […] although there is a long historical legacy of vitalism, and although it continues to be a feature within many contemporary belief systems, there really can be no compromise on its inclusion as a defining principle of chiropractic. It was precisely the rejection of vitalism in the 18th Century and the emerging understanding […] of biological mechanisms that marks one of the watershed moments in the evolution of science. Chiropractic can choose to retain its vitalistic component only if it chooses to operate completely outside the scientific healthcare community. Vitalism does not require any further or more extensive analysis before rejecting it. To reject vitalism is to simply to announce that one accepts the conventional view of biology similar to the way one accepts the convention view of cosmology by rejecting a geocentric universe.”

    Yet, presently, UBCNM calls their naturopathy scientific (see's_Nat.htm) while requiring vitalism (see while vitalism is profoundly scientifically ejected.

    So I left UBCNM realizing that naturopathy is an ‘unethical sectarian pseudoscience.’


  9. Gololoon 08 Dec 2007 at 12:41 am

    There is one thing that it is not clear to me. Since I am not, in any way, related with Medical Science, I am an Electrical Engineer, I am always sceptical when I hear some terms as “kinesiology”, because they sound like fake to me.
    Usually, I check this words in the dictionary, wikipedia or some other source, but even some of them are biased and portrait many of these terms as “sciences” when they are not.
    So my question for Steven (can I call you Steven?) is: Is kinesiology really a Science? From your article I understand that you believe AK is not (I think so too! Haha~), but what about the “K” part? Thank you.

    PS. Please forgive my English, since I am not a native speaker. I try my best =)

  10. Freddy the Pigon 08 Dec 2007 at 11:35 am

    Gololo – at the University of Calgary, and I assume at many other Universities, Kinesiology is a fancy word for whay used to be the Faculty of Phyisical Education. I think the idea was to get away from the dumb jock image. I don’t know if it could really be called a science, but it is something that someone can get a legitmate degree in and can do actual research in – so I suppose just as some engineers do scienctific reasearch, so do some (non applied) Kinesiologists – therby allowing AK practiioners to sound “sciency”, by appropriating the name of something legitamate.

    AK is used as a diagnositc tool in Emotional Freedom Therapy – surprise, surprise. EFT is a regular carnival of woo.

  11. daijiyobuon 08 Dec 2007 at 12:32 pm

    Kinesiology simply means the study of movement / the science of movement.

    When I did my BA at CUNY-Lehman in Physical Education (yes I am a dumb jock, in that sense, though the department itself was by then called “exercise and sport science;” no I am not a dumb jock, I graduated Summa Cum Laude and Phi Beta Kappa from Lehman College’s honors program) the course I took was “Biomechanics and Kinesiology.”

    There was absolutely no woo-woo in that course. It was biophysics basically, from the cellular generation of movement level to the large macroscopic organism level.

    Regarding AK’s origins, I once heard {and I’ve never been able to clarify this rumor, yet this may reveal the ‘mind f-ing’ [get my drift] that AK is all about} that something like AK was used by the British Special Services to interrogate WWII German prisoners — something about ‘the body doesn’t lie.’

    The king of AK, of course, is John Diamond, MD author of a book of that title (see

  12. Gololoon 08 Dec 2007 at 4:20 pm

    Thanks to “Freddy the Pig” and “daijiyobu” for making this point clear. Now I am sure of the difference between the Kinesiology science, and the “woo-woo” use of the name to trick people into remedies that won’t ever work, aka as “Applied Kinesiology”.

    PS. ‘daijiyobu’ sounds soooo Japanese, hahaha~ ???????????!^_^;

  13. DLCon 09 Dec 2007 at 1:19 am

    Not very good woo. not even the barest mention of quantum physics. But as quackery and pseudoscience goes, it’s right up there with Reiki and TT.
    Now back to adjusting my meridians . . . I think the waistband of my shorts is showing.

  14. dahliyanion 09 Dec 2007 at 6:49 am

    Oh man, what a terrible video clip. The icing on the cake was the remote testing where they asked about famous people. First Gandhi, and the subject’s response indicated Gandhi was a good man. Hitler, bad man. Kevin Trudeau, good man!

  15. psamathoson 09 Dec 2007 at 10:04 pm

    When they were testing the different sweetener products, what he really should have done is put each product into identical containers of equal weight and given them to him in random order. But then I guess that wouldn’t work for his video because the “effect” would go away.

  16. daijiyobuon 09 Dec 2007 at 10:41 pm

    Yes. Blinding it should result in results no better than chance, or no worse than results indicating the subject’s willful or participatory interpretation of what a ‘good’ result should be for the announced material. It would be interesting to take the same material, blinded, and announce it to the patient in two different ways, one with implications which are ‘good’ and one ‘bad.’

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