Robert Todd Carroll
Applied kinesiology (AK) is an alternative therapy created by George Goodheart, D.C. According to the International College of Applied Kinesiology, the therapy "is based on chiropractic principles and requires manual manipulation of the spine, extremities and cranial bones as the structural basis of its procedures." However, Goodheart and his followers unite chiropractic with traditional Chinese medicine (among other things); not only do they accept the notion of chi and the meridians of acupuncture, they posit a universal intelligence of a spiritual nature running through the nervous system. They believe that muscles reflect the flow of chi and that by measuring muscle resistance one can determine the health of bodily organs and nutritional deficiencies. These are empirical claims and have been tested and shown to be false (Hyman 1999; Kenny et al. 1988). Other claims made by practitioners are supported mainly by anecdotes supplied by advocates.
Nevertheless, AK has some formidable proponents, such as psychiatrist-cum-guru David Hawkins. He claims, among many other things, that he has proof that AK is a reliable "lie detector" and can be used to determine the truth or falsity of any statement. Hawkins also has developed a "scale of consciousness" and uses AK to determine how "enlightened" a book or person who wrote the book might be.* Hawkins claims he's calibrated The Skeptic's Dictionary at level 160, "which is that of sophomoric egotism."* Only 15% of humanity calibrate at above 200, according to Hawkins, so I'm in good company. By 'consciousness' Hawkins means some sort of developing spirituality. When you score between 700-1,000 you have reached "enlightenment." George W. Bush calibrates at 460, according to Hawkins, which is in the range of intellectual genius. (Need I add that Hawkins holds spirituality in high regard and has very conservative political values?) Hawkins goes so far as to claim that the Wikipedia article on him would calibrate at 400, instead of 200, if it removed the links to my criticisms.*
He claims AK is also a reliable way to determine a person's motives. Like many other New Age gurus, Dr. Hawkins believes he has not only found a way to tap into the unconscious mind but that therein dwells an unlimited database full of amazing truths.
Here is Hawkins's description of how AK works (taken from the work of Dr. John Diamond, another fallen-away psychiatrist in love with Eastern mysticism):
Yes, that's it. That's the magical technique of AK that can unlock the door to many truths. The only thing missing is the direction to face east and wear tin foil under your cap. (For more on Hawkins, check out New Zealand cults, etc.)
There is little doubt that the muscle movements detected by AK are unconsciously triggered (Hyman 1999), but there is scant evidence that they are triggered by amazing databases of truths. In short, AK practitioners are deluding themselves and mistaking ideomotor action for access to hidden truths.
Psychologist Ray Hyman provides a very telling example of how gurus and true believers can deceive themselves into believing what has been demonstrated to be false:
One would think that a trained psychiatrist such as Hawkins would give more credit to the power of the unconscious mind to cause muscles to tense or relax (ideomotor action) and would not be buffaloed by the applied kinesiology quackery. One would also think that a trained M.D. (Medical College of Wisconsin) and Ph.D. (Columbia Pacific University) would know that you can't do a proper controlled experiment with an audience of paying customers who are given envelopes containing either Nutrasweet® (bad, bad, bad!) or vitamin C (good! good! good!), a popular technique used by Dr. Hawkins to demonstrate the accuracy of AK. He and Dr. David Gerston, another psychiatrist, refer to these public exhibitions as double-blind controlled studies. I would hope that Dr. Hawkins was taught better when he worked on his Ph.D. under the guidance of Dr. Sheldon Deal, one of the world's foremost promoters of AK.
Applied kinesiology should not be confused with kinesiology proper, which is the scientific study of the principles of mechanics and anatomy in relation to human movement. However, many practitioners of applied kinesiology, refer to their quackery as kinesiology and themselves as kinesiologists.
Hyman, Ray. "The Mischief-Making of Ideomotor Action," in the Scientific Review of Alternative Medicine 3(2):34-43, 1999. Originally published as "How People Are Fooled by Ideomotor Action."
Robert Todd Carroll