Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of articles on critical thinking in Sport Psychology. A survey of websites of both non-credentialed and credentialed practitioners in Sport Psychology reveals that many mental trainers, consultants and Sport Psychologists use anecdotal evidence, testimonials and hyperbole to promote themselves and their methods. One of the most notorious practitioners is Jon Niednagel who advocates Brain Typing a system of assessment devoid of empirical support. In the following article our author Dr. Terry Sandbek addresses Brain Typing and pseudoscience in Sport Psychology.
By: Terry Sandbek, Ph.D.
Sport psychology has brought the world of athletic performance into the world of science. Unfortunately, as with many other fields in psychology, much of the literature of Sport Psychology gets hijacked into the public domain of pop Psychology where it is used and abused devoid of oversight and critical consumption.
Pop versions of the research, methods and interventions of Sport Psychology and other scientific fields appear to be created primarily to promote and sell the products and services of self-proclaimed gurus who essentially profit from the work of others.
Since the guidelines for conducting business in the realm of pop Psychology are much less constrained and limited by ethical guidelines than the enterprise of science, the promoters of pop science rely heavily on testimonials and anecdotes rather than empirical data and carefully controlled research
Sports Psychology has produced numerous popular variants including Brain Typing an un-validated system
that has recently garnered much publicity.
The words are impressive. “Brain Typing has become the world’s most accurate and sophisticated approach to understanding why people do what they do, whether in the workplace, at home, or on the field of athletic competition” (Kaufman, 2002). For decades psychology has been attempting to understand why people do what they do. Many significant contributions have emerged in such fields as motivation, social influence, personal efficacy, behavioral consequences, and memory. With the millions of hours and equally large sums of money spent answering this “why” question, it comes as a surprise that one individual, with minimal effort, can produce information that supercedes and transcends our current knowledge of the human “why.”
The individual at the vortex of this claim is Jonathan P. Niednagel and his product is called Brain Types®. Numerous people are willing to vouch for the veracity of his claims for the power of Brain Typing. The following comments have been taken from his web page (Niednagel, 2002e):
“Jonathan P. Niednagel’s scientific and 21st century approach to evaluating, developing, and motivating people, is simply stunning. I’ve found it the most important and helpful information in the last 20 years of human understanding and development . . . Those who fail to use Brain Types will be at a distinct disadvantage now and in the future.”
“If I was ever a general manager in any sport, Jon Niednagel would be my first hire, because he would give me an advantage that no one else would have.”
“Standing in a unique position is the scientific, invaluable, and new perspective Jon P. Niednagel brings to sports. No one should be without Brain Types.”
“I’m really excited about Brain Types® and the work of Jon P. Niednagel. I’ve found the information to be absolutely fascinating, almost scary, because it is so correct.”
“From my personal experience with Jon Niednagel, it would be a great competitive advantage for teams that are fortunate enough to have access to his Brain Typing system. His ability to precisely evaluate allows coaches to maximize potential of athletes, current and future.”
“I’ve never known Jon to be wrong about a person yet.”
For the sporting community, this is indeed strong language. Sports is all about winning and often the difference between winning and losing is microscopic. Athletes will often resort to outrageous schemes for increasing their odds, whether it is superstition or the use of unproven methodologies.
Who is Jonathan P. Niednagel?
Jonathan P. Niednagel has a bachelor’s degree in Business Finance from California State University, Long Beach. Although born and raised in Missouri, he attended college and lived in Southern California for about 20 years during that area’s real estate boom. He made money in real estate and left that business before the real estate market caved (Niednagel, 2002). His also worked as a commodities broker during this time. He loves to fish and is proud of his personal stance as a born-again Christian. Eventually, Mr. Niednagel began developing his entrepreneurial skills through marketing positive thinking material and promoting multilevel marketing (Niednagel 2002c).
In April 1997, Jonathan Niednagel became the president, CEO and co-founder of a company called Mobile Automation, Inc. (Mobile Automation, 2002). This company developed IT solutions for managing mobile devices such as laptops, palmtops and handheld PCs. He left the company in 1999 (Killen, 2002).
Sometime in the late nineties, Mr. Niednagel came up with a new product based on his interest in Carl Jung and the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). He SELF-published a new book entitled, Brain Typing: Gain an Uncanny, Razor-Sharp Understanding of Yourself and Everyone Around You! (Niednagel 1998).
Near the end of the 90s, Mr. Niednagel created an organization called the Brain Type Institute in Thornfield, MO. The purpose of this organization is to promote the business of selling his Brain Typing product. Although the name conjures a large building with highly trained staff and possible research facilities, it is an “institute” in name only. A phone call to the headquarters will either result in an answering machine message or a personal contact with Jonathan’s brother, Jeremy.
The above is a sketchy biography of a person pursuing the American dream of making a good living. What makes the picture murky are the methods involved in marketing the product. The selling of Brain Typing is another example of American commerce and entrepreneurship. Although marketers have many effective strategies, consumers still expect the presentation of the product to conform to common standards of responsibility and truthfulness.
Marketing Brain Typing as a scientific product — like thermometers, telephones, hearing aids, and millions of other products — becomes problematical when one checks out the scientific foundations of Brain Typing. Mr. Niednagel is quite overt in his claim that Brain Typing is not merely a good idea or a clever idea he created. He states that Brain Typing is a scientific product because it evolved and is supported by hard science. As we look further into this claim for the Brain Typing-Scientific Method connection, we find the connection is less than tenuous.
Before looking at the scientific claims for Brain Typing, it is instructive to look at the background that Mr. Niednagel brings to his product. We find that his experience consists solely with the field of business with no formal training in science.
Brain Typing as a Product
Jonathan P. Niednagel has been educated as a businessman and has more than twenty years of experience in the field of business. His training is to sell products and services. Some businesses that are directly dependent on applied science for their products or services often find a tension between the business and the science behind it. Sometimes business people make claims for a product or service that is based on a specific scientific discovery but goes beyond the scientific evidence (i.e. health claims for products based on flimsy scientific evidence). Other times, a product will be sold which is not based on science but uses the language of science without the corresponding scientific foundation.
Such is the case with Brain Typing. Mr. Niednagel is quick to claim a scientific basis for his product but is unable to offer any solid evidence that it is based on any scientific principles. This is not surprising when we look at the types of businesses that he has promoted in the last few decades. None of them have any direct link to applied science or scientific research. Multilevel Marketing and Positive Thinking, his two previous ventures, have no connection to findings within the scientific community.
Multilevel Marketing (MLM)
Multilevel Marketing (sometimes called network marketing) began in the 1980s as a new and innovative method for making money. Mr. Niednagel was involved enough with MLM to write a book, which is now out of print, entitled MLM Winners: How to Become and Find Them. Multilevel Marketing appears to be a provocative venture. Its critics believe that MLM suffers from legal and ethical deficiencies. They say that although Multilevel Marketing is a marketing ploy, it is really a product hiding behind the product it is designed to sell. Critics are concerned with the ethics of Multilevel Marketing because it is based on illegal pyramid schemes. The Scambusters website believes that “the dangers of buying into a MLM plan is that you will likely find your only customers are other distributors, not the public.” (Lanford & Lanford, 2000).
A variety of Websites are devoted to denouncing the excesses of Multilevel marketing. Dr. Stephen Barrett, operator of one such website, called MLM Watch, offers close to a hundred links to issues regarding MLM (Barrett, 2002b). He operates his site because he believes that MLM has the potential for public deception. His site covers MLM topics such as investigative reports, legal issues, government enforcement actions, and relevant research.
Another response to MLM has been the creation of an international, nonprofit organization called Pyramid Scheme Alert. This group attempts to expose, study and prevent pyramid schemes. They believe that “In recent decades, pyramid schemes have become an insidious, pervasive and corrupting influence in the marketplace and community, causing financial and social harm on a global scale.” (FitzPatrick, Taylor & Perkins, 2000)
Dean and Laura VanDruff have an extensive site where they list four serious problems with getting involved with MLM (VanDruff & VanDruff, 2002).
$ Market saturation — MLMs are “doomed by design” to recruit too many salespeople, who in turn will then attempt to recruit even more salespeople, ad infinitum.
$ Pyramid structure — For many, the real attraction of involvement in multi-level marketing is the thinly veiled pyramid scheme made quasi-legal by the presence of a product or service.
$ Morality and ethics — The ethical concessions necessary to be “successful” in many MLM companies are stark and difficult to deal with for most people.
$ Relationship issues — Friends and family should be treated as such, and not as “marks” for exploitation.
Other sites are equally critical of MLM. MLM Survivor.com (MLM Survivor, 2002) tracks the attempts of large MLMs to stifle criticism through legal means. Quatloos! Scams and Frauds Exposed maintains that MLM was once a legitimate economic business but is “now a scam” (Financial & Tax Fraud Education Associates, 2002). The Anti-MLM and Anti-Amway Webring (Hoagland, 2002) is a navigation system linking MLM related Web sites together.
By its very nature, MLM is completely devoid of any scientific foundations. Consequently, we can assume that Mr. Niednagel did not become trained in scientific methodology nor receive further experience in any previous scientific training through direct involvement in Multilevel Marketing
Pop Psychology of Positive Thinking
Positive thinking books and seminars are often associated with New Age approaches such as that offered by the motivational speaker, Tony Robbins and his firewalking production (Willey D., 2002; Carroll, 2002). Positive thinking advocates tend to rehash ideas and concepts about how easy it is for one to achieve a happy life, e.g., by following a simple seven-step formula.. One of Niednagel’s books, Brain Typing: Gain an Uncanny, Razor-Sharp Understanding of Yourself and Everyone Around You! (Niednagel 1998) can be purchased at a website operated by the Psychic World Network (Psychic World Network, 1996). Other books sold on this website include Mind Travel, The Power of the Mind to Heal, and Your Psychic Pathway. The literary domain in which his books are promoted is definitely not that of academic respectability nor scientific credibility.
It appears that this association is not accidental. Although Niednagel loudly claims a scientific basis for his product, strangely enough, he promotes his books in the company of people who are involved in nonscientific enterprises such as Anthony Robbins, Deepak Chopra, Evelyn Wood, Grand Master Tsai, Zig Zigler and The Foundation for Inner Peace (Anon (A), 2002).
The Positive Thinking movement has long been associated with such techniques as affirmations, mind control, positive vibrations, the Silva method, the Sedona method and countless other schemes with little or no basis in scientific fact. Although these methods have little to do with scientific validation, they have much to do with sales and marketing.
Once again, it is apparent that involvement in the Positive Thinking enterprise did not offer Mr. Niednagel any initial or further training in the concepts and application of science.
The Marketing of Brain Typing
Soon after inventing Brain Typing for the masses, Niednagel discovered a more lucrative niche — the world of professional athletes. In 2001 he created his website called BrainTypes.com: Understanding for the new millennium (Niednagel, 2002b). Prior to this, he published another book entitled, Your Key to Sports Success: How Understanding Your Brain Type Will Enhance Your Athletic Ability (1997).
Mr. Niednagel conceived of Brain Typing as a variant of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). The MBTI is a popular instrument for determining a person’s personality. According to its publishers the MBTI is taken by more than two million people a year — more than any other personality test (Consulting Psychologists Press, 2002).
As explained by Niednagel (2002d), “Brain Types is an offshoot of Jungian typology — and was created to overcome its various shortcomings. In recent years, Jungian typology has been popularized by the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI®) — a psychological assessment administered to thousands and thousands of people annually in America. Nevertheless, since it relies on a self-reporting questionnaire, the results are often incorrect.” He says elsewhere that “Sixteen distinct Brain Types have been identified in people the world over — each with unique mental and motor skill proficiencies . . . Though personas can vary significantly within individuals of each Brain Type (due to nurture: parenting, upbringing, etc.), inborn neural circuits affecting mental and physical skills remain consistent from birth and are similar due to genetic hardwiring — nature” (Niednagel, 2002f).
At this point, Niednagel leaves many questions unanswered. He never explains why the MBTI is so “often incorrect.” Nor does he give any references for the claim that the distinct Brain Types have specific relationships to a person’s mental and motor skill proficiencies. No evidence is forthcoming about how inborn and consistent “neural circuits” can be specific to each Brain Type. With all the research in neurophysiology, this should not be an unreasonable thing to identify.
His explanation makes it appear that the world of psychology wholeheartedly endorses the MBTI as a personality test. Nothing could be further from the truth. The MBTI is a test generally used by people outside the mainstream of professional psychologists: counselors, pastors, teachers, etc. In addition, many psychologists even question whether the “personality” is well enough defined to even be able to measure it with a test.
Although strongly declaring that Brain Typing has its roots in the MBTI, Niednagel then curiously tries to distance himself from it by asserting that the information received from using the traditional approach of Jung and the Myers-Briggs is, “. . . at least on the right trail. They can get you 10 yards down the path, but with Brain Typing you can be 3 miles ahead. There is no such thing as accurate self-assessment. Brain Typing is the most accurate and applicable typology today.” This declaration is offered with absolutely no proof.
Instead of presenting any evidence that Brain Typing is a science rather than just another New Age product, Niednagel continues to produce more merchandise, i.e., CD-ROMs, Videos (Who Am I? Who Are You? Why we learn and act differently – 80 minutes, $39.95), and more books. He hopes to develop at-home test kits, allowing HR professionals and others to find out a person’s Brain Types on site.
Brain Typing As Pseudoscience
A pseudoscience is “a system of theories, assumptions, and methods erroneously regarded as scientific” (American Heritage® Dictionary 2000). Since pseudoscience is widespread and highly visible it has very distinctive features (Sagan, 1996; Moller, 1994). The following is a summary of the many ways to identify a pseudoscience and how closely the Brain Typing of Jonathan P. Niednagel fits as a pseudoscience.
The pseudoscientist uses testimonials as evidence.
Pseudoscience relies heavily on testimony and anecdotal information instead of carefully controlled research that follows well-established principles. Testimonials use highly visible individuals who have elevated status among those to whom the product is being marketed. Since Niednagel is attempting to carve out a market niche within the sports community he uses testimonials from well-known athletes such as Sammy Sosa, successful coaches such as Danny Ainge, television programs such as those on the Fox Sports Net Television and ESPN, magazines such as Sports Illustrated, “scientists” such as Dr. Bob Arndt, and web sites such as Mark’s Outdoor Sports Web site
Testimonials from famous people are effective because of the Halo Effect. The Halo Effect occurs when a person with expertise in a particular subject makes pronouncements about something outside of their area of expertise. Any athlete who claims his performance has improved because he used magnets, special socks, Brain Typing, or any other product is displaying a basic ignorance of statistics and scientific validation.
Testimonials have many limitations (Ruscio, 2002) and must always be suspect because fooling people is one of the easiest of human activities. We can easily fool others and can even more easily fool ourselves. This is partially due to what has been called the vividness effect. Dr. Stanovich explains that we often make decisions based on the vividness of the memory we have about the subject. When an athlete promotes the effectiveness of Brain Typing, a vivid memory is left behind in the mind of the sports-minded listener (Stanovich, 1998).
The pseudoscientist claims the support of science without using its principles.
Using the language of an athlete does not make a person an athlete, nor does using the language of science make a person a scientist. Yet this is what Niednagel may be doing. When he claims that, “Years and years of empirical research have convinced us at BTI that each person in the world only has one of the 16 Brain Types,” his use of the word research is a world apart from its scientific meaning. When a scientist speaks of doing research, the task includes many interconnected components such as:
$ Designing a study
$ Conducting the study
$ Collecting, recording, and tabulating the data
$ Analyzing the data to determine whether the results appear significant or were likely to occur by chance alone
$ Determining whether hypotheses have been supported or refuted
$ Reviewing relevant studies to see how the findings fit with previous knowledge. (Barrett, 2002a)
When Niednagel speaks of “years and years of research” he means that he coached children’s sports teams for many decades and that by merely observing them play, he can decide their Brain Type (Niednagel, 2002). Another type or “research” he conducted was reading journals and books in university libraries. Although such may be thought of as “research” by the public, it is merely the first step in designing a study. As all graduate students know, this activity is called the literature search and is designed to find out what else has been published in the area of interest. It is not to be confused with a completed research project.
In spite of coaching kids sports and reading periodicals and books in a library, Niednagel claims that he “combines his personality, neuroscientific and genetic research with an athletic background, extensive youth coaching career, and study of professional athletes” (Niednagel, 2002d). This language is very specific. He is saying that he has the training, credentials, and experience to conduct scientific research in the widely disparate fields of psychology, neuroscience, and genetics. No scientist alive can conduct relevant research in all three of these areas. Yet, Niednagel, with a B.A. in Business Finance believes he can do this.
Pseudoscience does not consider the implications of its claims. In the case of Brain Typing, each person can be one of sixteen Brain Types. Given that the population of the world is about 5.5 billion, this means that over 30 million people share the same Brain Type and should be very similar in motor skills and personality. This looks suspiciously like astrology — another pseudoscience that lumps all the peoples of the world into twelve groups. When reading attributes of any of the sixteen categories, one hears a melody similar to daily horoscopes. For example the person who happens to be an “ISTJ” is described as a “gatherer of data; compelled to identify reality and bring order; stable, conservative, dependable, reserved, logical, fastidious, systematic, painstaking, thorough, dutiful; fine motor skilled.” The ESTJ “excels at organizing and running activities and orderly procedures; matter-of-fact; consistent, efficient, energetic, pragmatic, critiquing; likes rules and laws; values traditions; commerce-oriented; fine motor skilled.” There is no category for a person who has half the ISTJ and half the ESTJ attributes.
It seems audacious to believe that all of human diversity and complexity can be explained by sixteen simple categories. All people in the world can be categorized as investigators, supervisors, assistants, facilitators, athletes, opportunist, artisans, entertainers, idealists, motivators, wordsmiths, educators, logicians, strategizers, inventors, or “Chief Executive Officers.” No room is allowed for a large portion of humanity: losers, chronic failures, homeless, mentally defective, developmentally disabled or many other people who do not neatly fit these categories.
As examples of athletes with different types of Brain Typing, Niednagel says that Larry Bird is an SF, Magic Johnson an SF, Julius Erving an NF and Bill Russell and NT. No explanation is given for how these decisions were made and no detailed analysis is provided which convincingly shows how these distinctions are significant.
The pseudoscientist misrepresents the tenets of science and its practitioners.
Not only does pseudoscience claim to support science, it egregiously misuses the science and muddles what science is all about. For example, Niednagel’s web site used to have a section that attempted to confront his critics. On this page he said, “we reject the ‘theories’ of Jung, Freud, and all other psychologists and their humanistic notions.” This one sentence contains three examples of misrepresentation. Niednagel, like other pseudoscientists, is fond of disparaging the “theories” of scientists when they do not fit their own viewpoints (similar to creationists who belittle the “theories” of evolution). It appears he does not understand the relationship between a scientific theory and its corroborating data. This concept is taught in introductory science courses.
Secondly, Niednagel offers the names of Jung, and Freud as representative of today’s psychologists. As Stanovich (Stanovich, 1998) says, “The notoriety of Freud has greatly affected the general public’s conceptions about the field of psychology and has contributed to many misunderstandings.” Stanovich goes on to mention that psychologists who continue to perpetuate the writings of Freud make up less than 10 percent of the membership in the American Psychological Association. Niednagel’s rejection of the theories of Freud and Jung is, ironically, in keeping with the vast majority of practicing psychologists.
Thirdly, the notion that all psychologists are “humanistic,” sounds like the catch phrase used by contemporary Christian apologists who reflexively recoil at the mention of secular humanism. Is it possible that Niednagel’s religious belief is showing itself here? Humanistic psychology is only one small part of the entire field. Its popularity peaked in the sixties and seventies and is now being incorporated into the mainstream of scientific psychology. It is, by no means, representative of the field of Psychology as it exists today.
The pseudoscientist suggests that others are conducting validating research for his views.
Niednagel was interviewed on ESPN (July 21, 2002, 10:30am EDT) and made the statement that other scientists have validated his work. This duplicated the same claim on his web site – “According to neuroscientists who have worked with Niednagel, they say he is exceptionally well read in brain research and has studied PET scans and MRI’s for years in reference to body and brain function. Many neuroscientists have been interviewed who swear by Niednagel and Brain Typing.”
When most of these scientists were notified of their “endorsements,” they recanted and asked Niednagel to remove their names from his website. The following two responses are representative (Carlstedt, 2002):
“I just read your web site and was surprised to see that I am listed under ‘Scientific Testimonials.’ I hereby request that you remove my name and comments from this part of your web site.”
Charles Ribak, Ph.D.
University of California, Irvine
Professor of Anatomy & Neurobiology, School of Biological Sciences
“Haven’t spoken to you in years so I was surprised to find my ‘testimonial’ on your web site. Please remove it from all places so there is no appearance that I am endorsing your products.”
Rich Haier, Ph.D.
University of California, Irvine
Professor of Pediatrics in Residence
As Mr. Niednagel discovered, reading journals in a university library and using the authors of articles that he thought validated his beliefs for testimonials is not science. After several attempts to persuade Mr. Niednagel to produce scientific work that supports his claims, nothing has yet been produced.
“Scientists and leaders in business and sports are marveling at the new understanding this revolutionary technique brings—and its far-reaching implications” (Interview with an expert: Jonathan Niednagel, 2002). This stunning claim has no evidence that it is true. We are not told which survey was used, how many scientists and business leaders were interviewed, where they were from, and what percentage “marveled” at Brain Typing.
The pseudoscientist makes claims of an imminent breakthrough
One of the most common attributes used by the promoters of pseudoscience is the pronouncement that a major scientific breakthrough is just around the corner. “Jonathan Niednagel is currently developing methods to decide an individual’s Brain Type from their DNA. Within the next few years, Niednagel expects to develop the first ever Brain Type Blood Test (or saliva or hair — which are also used to decipher DNA)” (Niednagel, 2002a). He also says, “We believe it won’t be long before Brain Types are proven genetically” (Niednagel, 2002b).
Again it appears that Niednagel is, himself, conducting the research. It might also imply that members of his “Institute” are currently engaged in scientific DNA research. This is not so, since the Brain Type Institute consists of Jonathan P. Niednagel and his brother, Jeremy Niednagel. It is possible that Niednagel is funding research in this area, but there is no evidence to support this notion. Neither is there any evidence that scientists are independently producing this type of research. Who are these scientists and what are their affiliations? It is amazing that such a new and sophisticated field of research, genetics, is available to a businessman with no scientific affiliations.
A variation of this pseudoscientific strategy is to claim that patents will soon be issued for the product. Since “everyone knows” that the U.S. Patent Office will not issue patents for such ideas as perpetual motion machines, then the obtaining of a patent seems to be a scientific stamp of approval from a federal agency. Niednagel wants us to believe that this will give him scientific respectability when he says, “we’re doing genetic testing now and finding very specific DNA markers for each of the Brain Types and we hope soon to patent the various DNA characteristics for each type” (Moran, 2001). He makes a similar claim when he says he is working toward establishing patents for each Brain Type (Hilton, 2002).
Some claims of the pseudoscientist are neither unusually surprising nor in violation of commonly accepted standards/information.
The pseudoscientist pretends that his “research” is responsible for discovering surprisingly significant new information. “Recent research from Sport Scientist Jonathan Niednagel has revealed that most top athletes are able to adapt to their changing surroundings without getting anxious. In other words, Tiger Woods, Mia Hamm and Ken Griffey Jr. are able to read different play situations and adapt to them quickly situation after situation” (as quoted from Zosel, 2002).
The claim “that most top athletes are able to adapt to their changing surroundings without getting anxious,” is hardly surprising or disputable. These are the very qualities that make them top athletes. It could be argued that without these qualities, an athlete would languish in lower tiers of competence. To claim that he discovered this incredible fact is specious. This is like saying that his research has “discovered” that top athletes have excellent coordination.
The presentation of pseudoscientific material relies on fancy charts, graphs rather valid empirical evidence
When empirical evidence is absent, pseudoscientists obfuscate this vacuum with visual distractions. Although charts and graphs can greatly enhance the presentation of scientific data, by themselves, they offer nothing unless backed up by valid raw data. One of Niednagel’s web pages (Niednagel, 2002g) dealing with “body skills” contains a multicolor chart that is supposed to show the order of strength for the four Brain Type groupings. Any reference to empirical information that would make the charts and graphs significant is totally missing.
The pseudoscientist believes that where there is smoke there is fire
All pseudoscience is based on questionable assumptions, unproven theories, and wild speculation. To cover this lack of a solid scientific foundation, it is common to show that many people support the questionable product. Although 2,000,000 people a year take the MBTI, it is not held in high repute by scientific psychologists because it has low validity and low reliability, the two benchmarks of assessment instruments. The mention of Carl Jung’s name for adding credibility is also dubious. Though many mental health professionals claim to be Jungians, none of them are scientists. Jungians have the opposite orientation of scientists by embracing mysticism and even the occult. Recent research by psychologist Richard Noll (Noll, 1997) has shown conclusively that Jung was a closet racist, devoted to neo-paganism, and suspicious of scientific findings that did not fit his theories. He conducted no research but offered his hypotheses with a strength of conviction that still sways the scientifically naive.
The pseudoscientist is incapable of showing any progress
Anyone who has followed other pseudoscience projects, such as free energy, knows that even though there is always the presence of the imminent breakthrough, no true progress has ever occurred. The only progress is in new language, varied marketing techniques, more books and pamphlets, additional testimonials, and more complex theories to explain the previous theories. No scientific progress has occurred in Brain Typing since its founding in the 1990s (or 1980s depending who is telling the story).
Again, the pseudoscientist asks for more time and gives the impression that the big event will still happen. What the pseudoscientist does not understand is that the work of science is painstaking and almost never occurs with a single breakthrough as the result of the sheer will power and effort of a single, brilliant individual. This idea is the stuff of movies and novels, not the real world of science.
The pseudoscientist makes false claims for credentials and/or experience
Proponents of pseudoscience often, but not always, claim more expertise than they really have. This claim is usually presented in terms of experience (length or quality) or education. With Niednagel, it is both — he refers to himself — and lets others confirm this — that he is a sports scientist (Niednagel, 2002d) and brain doctor (Anon (B), 2002).
“I think I’m fairly well versed in terms of the cognitive functions of the brain and how they work; I think I’m fairly well versed in terms of the motor cortex and all the motor skills and so forth. So, in that sense, I do understand some things about the brain and I’ve read about it for some 20 years and continue to read.”
At the very minimum, a Ph.D. is required in today’s world to conduct competent science. Even after obtaining such a degree from an accredited university, the new doctorate is considered a journeyman practitioner and will be part of a much larger and more experienced team of researchers. Only after many years of paying her dues will a scientist venture forth to pursue independent interests. This track record is utterly lacking in Niednagel’s life.
The pseudoscientist engages in name dropping
The impression that one wants to leave by using this strategy is called validation by association. Name dropping is extremely simple. A famous and well-known name is inserted into any context and the association is left to the listener. Does the casual use of a famous name mean there is a personal friendship? An approval from them? A similarity for being successful?
Niednagel uses this technique on his home page with words, “In other words, you could have the same Brain Type as Ronald Reagan and John F. Kennedy, or one of the separate Types of Michael Jordan, Tom Cruise, Tiger Woods or Oprah Winfrey” (Niednagel, 2002j). An interesting question is how Niednagel obtained the Brain Types of these people. He says that he obtains a person’s Brain Type by watching them. What makes this method problematic is that people act and behave differently in different circumstances. The people on this list were most likely observed in a public setting. It is almost certain that they would present themselves differently around close friends and family. How accurate can this really be?
In his book on the science and practice of social influence Robert B. Cialdini (Cialdini, 2001) has found that liking someone is a way for that person to get us to comply with their requests. Name dropping is a variation of this process. After all, if Niednagel is somehow associated with famous people, then we will probably like him (Niednagel) more and consequently be more inclined to buy his product, Brain Typing.
The pseudoscientist’s claims tend to cover all possibilities in life
The best example of this pseudoscientific attribute is the stereotype of the patent medicine — snake oil — salesmen of the 19th century. His use nostrums could be used by the unsuspecting to cure every ill of humanity. It was common for the sellers to list as many remedies as possible in order to attract as many customers as possible. One salesman claimed that his medicine treated “rheumatism, neuralgia, sciatica, lame back, lumbago, contracted muscles, toothache, sprains, swellings, frost bites, chill blains, bruises, sore throat, [and] bites of animals, insects and reptiles” The tonic was “good for every thing a liniment should be good for” and promised “immediate relief.” (Nickell, 1998)
Niednagel uses more updated language in his pitch for Brain Typing. He claims that his product will enhance the following areas of a person’s life: “self-understanding, business, education, health, family, parenting, relationships, romance, spirituality, sports, vocations, and even predicting criminal behavior.” (Niednagel, 2002h)
This last claim is a particularly puzzling one since forensic psychologists have been struggling with the problem of predicting criminal behavior for many years. Every instrument that purports to predict criminal behavior has been found wanting. To be able to accomplish this feat would be a breathtaking breakthrough for the forensic community. Since Niednagel has made this claim, the only correct action he can take would be to publish his research in one of the many peer-reviewed forensic journals. The legal community would be eternally grateful.
The pseudoscientist’s articles lack scientific references
In spite of claims to the contrary, Niednagel has never made even one reference available to the scientific community. He strongly claims that “Brain Types” relies on scientific validation for its measurements, both mentally and physically. Brain and body research explains specifically how and why the various Brain Types have corresponding mental and motor-skill proficiencies. This typological-neuro-scientific approach provides the only method possible to accurately assess mental and motor skills.” (Niednagel, 2002a)
This claim has several problems. First is the assumption that there is a scientific discipline identified as a “typological-neuro-scientific approach.” No such field exists because the phrase is just a stringing together or words which attempt to give credibility to Brain Type assumptions (i.e., human typology). No reputable scientist in the fields of neurology or psychology would recognize this phrase as a legitimate discipline.
This claim comes very close to being hubris by specifically asking us to accept the information that somewhere, someplace, there exists the scientific validation for Brain Types. Citing references is not difficult; it is a skill taught to every college student who needs to document his or her term paper. Niednagel has refused, by inaction, to cite his sources for such a provocative claim.
Anecdotal evidence offered by the pseudoscientist is selective
Niednagel excels at the use of anecdotal evidence. His most famous story recalls his time as a consultant for the San Diego Chargers in 1998, a team that was trying to decide whether to draft Peyton Manning or Ryan Leaf. He told club officials that Peyton Manning had the ideal Brain Type for an NFL quarterback — sharing the same inborn traits as Joe Montana, Johnny Unitas, Joe Namath and Brett Favre — but that Ryan Leaf’s makeup would not allow him to perform under pressure. The Chargers drafted Leaf as the No. 2 pick anyway, only to release him two years later.
As is typical of using anecdotal marketing as evidence, the tendency is to be very selective. Niednagel’s website lists his appearance on the Fox Sports Net Television but not his more recent appearance on the ESPN show, Outside the Lines. Perhaps this is because the Fox show gullibly accepted what Niednagel had to say, whereas the ESPN show included two psychologists highly skeptical of Brain Typing. Another example of anecdotal selectivity is the complete absence of information from people who have used Brain Typing and have been dissatisfied with it. Experience has shown us that this group of people is often invisible because they may think they are in the minority and do not want to appear incompetent; or they think the entire matter is too trivial to engage. Either way, Niednagel offers no information about athletes who are displeased with Brain Typing. It is hard to believe that these people do not exist.
The pseudoscientist offers vague and generalized warnings for why society needs the product.
Often the pseudoscientist will imply that great good will come from his product by suggesting the opposite — that not using it will make society worse. “I personally find using Brain Types with families and interpersonal relationships to be the most meaningful and rewarding. Families are disintegrating or warring based on a lack of understanding of one another, a lack of appreciation for the differences in people. Young people have no direction or motivation, not knowing where they fit in into this society” (“Interview with an expert: Jonathan Niednagel,” 2002h).
Somehow we are supposed to believe that all young people are directionless and lacking motivation with the implication that the problem would be corrected if only families would use Brain Typing. This “solution” to a rampant societal problem is never spelled out. It is almost as if Niednagel believes that any reasonable person could easily see why this is true.
The best texts used by the pseudoscientist are decades old
The only references Niednagel makes to other influences are the typology twins, Jung and Myers-Briggs. Carl Jung wrote his mystical texts in the first part of the 20th century while the MBTI was created more than 50 years ago with no revisions or updates since. The followers of these two approaches represent an exceedingly small minority in both the American Psychological Association and the American Psychological Society.
Although one can find many references to Carl Jung in the current psychological journals, the articles are mainly philosophical in nature and have produced nothing new since his death. A search of the PsychInfo database for articles since 1999 on the Myers-Briggs returned 103 documents. This may sound impressive until one discovers that 44% of the references were from the Journal of Psychological Type — a house journal for believers in typology. Another 8% were cited from the Journal of Career Assessment. The other 48% of the articles were from such journals as Pastoral Psychology and the Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research. These journals are not among the top tier of respected scientific journals in psychology.
The pseudoscientist presents results in the media rather than peer-reviewed journals
In spite of all the claims for Brain Typing as a scientific endeavor, there is not one article on the subject in any scientific, peer-reviewed journal. No human enterprise is considered scientific until the information is presented in this format. Instead of working to get his product scientifically tested and validated, Niednagel spends his time spreading his message through magazines, books, television, and newspapers.
The pseudoscientist bases his claims on authority rather than observation or empirical investigation
Niednagel has discovered a very useful individual as a specific authority figure, the former professional tennis player, Vic Braden. Mr. Braden, who currently teaches tennis, is a grandfathered, masters level psychologist in California. He is convinced that Brain Typing is a legitimate science. Mr. Braden calls Niednagel a sports scientist and personally believes that “understanding the way our brains are wired allows us to maximize our strengths, neutralize our weaknesses, and can be used to guide any aspect of our life, including nailing match point in the final set” (Moran, 2001).
Mr. Braden becomes almost evangelistic when he is quoted in the Los Angeles Times as saying, “If Jon is able to connect all this with empirical evidence, I’m convinced he’ll win the Nobel Prize . . . If someone can tell me what’s more important than this, I’d be very interested to hear it. Can you imagine sitting in the United Nations, knowing your adversary’s Brain Type and being able to change the way you listen, the way you negotiate, the way you make a request?” (Los Angeles Times, 1997). Mr. Braden is a licensed psychologist because he had a master’s degree at the time the State of California decided to license psychologists. Being grandfathered meant he did not have to pass either a written or an oral examination to become licensed. Mr. Braden has no experience conducting research — as many psychologists with a Ph.D have — and from his comments appears to be unaware of the necessity of scientific validation of claims.
If the forgoing is a portrait of pseudoscience, what does genuine science look like? Science is not a body of facts, a specific vocabulary or a close-minded group of people who are unwilling to look at new phenomena. The scientific method began about 400 years ago because Galileo wanted to understand nature without the baggage of human opinion.
Since human beings are inherently error prone in understanding the world around them, we have been attempting to find truth through a variety of avenues: authority, inspiration, tradition, majority vote and personal experience. These are still used but have the unfortunate attribute of introducing large errors into getting at the truth. So far, the scientific method is the best method for minimizing human error. It is not perfect, but there is still no approach that can do better at reducing the deficiencies of human reasoning.
There are several reasons why the scientific method is so effective. (Barrett, 2002a).
$ Science is self-correcting. Science is a humble activity because it has the potential for punishing arrogance. No scientist assumes that science discovers Absolute Truth. The activity of science generates conclusions that are expected to be modified later. The work of science is never done because it is always undergoing change. The work of the giants such as Galileo, Newton, Einstein have all been changed in some way. Research results are expected to lead to new questions that need further exploration.
$ Science demands objectivity. The business of minimizing human error means weeding out the personal beliefs, perceptions, biases, values, or emotions of the researcher. Scientific validity does not rely on the opinions of scientists, no matter how great they happen to be. Science insists that results speak for themselves. Then and only then are conclusions considered valid.
$ Scientific experiments must be reproducible. Science gives very little credence to one study, taken by itself. Such an event rarely proves anything significant. The more important the result of an experiment is, the more one researcher’s findings must be repeatable by other scientists.
The Gothic mythology of a Dr. Frankenstein doing ground breaking science alone by following an idea and working out the details in the laboratory is a literary whimsy. The more complex the subject matter of science becomes, the more substantial the community of scientists becomes. Where is the community of scientists working to validate Brain Typing?
Why Pseudoscience Works
In spite of whether or not Brain Typing is a science or pseudoscience, what difference does it matter if in fact it really works? Athletes are not stupid and as professionals are not going to be taken in if a product does not help them. For example, they are not going to use a tennis racket that makes their swing less accurate, use a baseball bat that slows down their swing, or use track shoes that throw off their stride.
Of course athletes are no more stupid or intelligent than the rest of the population. Unfortunately, they still share with the rest of the human race an enormous capacity to be deceived. No human is immune from it, Professional magicians are fooled by other magicians, airline pilots mistake the planet Venus for a UFO, mental health professionals believe tales of alien abduction from their patients, and athletes get tricked by other athletes in every game. Athletes can be superstitious — a lucky shoe, pre-game rituals, and prayer are all examples of how gullible athletes, as fellow humans, can be.
Athletes are vulnerable to deception in their livelihood because their only purpose is to win. The competition is so keen that they are continually searching for that piece of magic that will give them an edge. Sport Psychology has become important because at the level of elite athletics, success is determined by the mental status of the athlete. It is possible that the powerful need to be successful may blind the athlete to what is being offered as a performance enhancement.
An athlete or coach who endorses Brain Typing does not mean that Brain Typing is valid. It can just as easily mean that the athlete or coach is unaware of the profound effect marketing strategies can have. Marketing, in its most simple terms, is the behavior of convincing people to buy your product. The contemporary marketer has many strategies for increasing the distribution of his goods to others. Several of these used by Niednagel are described below.
Dr. Pankratz (Pankratz, 2001), a psychology professor, has identified three elements that help individuals convince others of their claims: credibility, sincerity, and grandiosity. Niednagel may unwittingly use all three to convince athletes, and others, of the value of Brain Typing.
Credibility. Niednagel uses the credibility card by his use of testimonials and his association with professional athletes and coaches. Dr. Pankratz says, “Once credibility is established, however, the [person] can get away with absurd statements, even obvious inconsistencies.” There is no question that Niednagel makes outrageous statements about the “science” of Brain Typing that some athletes do not bother to question.
Sincerity: “Truth is commonly judged by sincerity in our culture,” says Pankratz. By watching Niednagel on television it becomes immediately apparent that he is very sincere. Because of this sincerity, he is perceived as convincingly truthful regarding his claims for Brain Typing.
Grandiosity: “There are advantages to going all out and posing as someone important . . . The audience is less likely to . . . confront someone they believe to be important.” By pounding the audience with the notion that he is a scientist doing cutting edge research, Niednagel is posing as someone he is not. Nevertheless, his intended audience does not confront him and thereby becomes more willing to buy his product.
In addition to these three marketing strategies, other psychologists have identified further successful strategies.
Confirmation bias. Confirmation bias is a well-established principle of human self-deception. As we receive information, our brain compares it with what we already know. Confirmation bias allows us to attend to information that confirms to our current beliefs and ignore those facts that disconfirm out beliefs. The strength of this principle is related to our emotional commitment to our specific belief. Giving someone money for a product can often increase our commitment and consequently, our confirmation bias about the product. Another example of this operation is when people fall in love. During the courtship phase, they can only see those things in their lover that confirms their experience of being in love. Athletes who wear lucky clothing will only pay attention to, and remember, instances where the lucky clothing helped their performance. They do not remember those times when the lucky clothing does not work. Those who accept Brain Typing will likely treat it similarly.
Cognitive Dissonance is a similar principle, but occurs when our beliefs are in direct violation of the facts. To alleviate the dissonance, an individual can either change the belief to fit the facts or change the facts to fit the belief. There is strong evidence that many individuals do the latter. It is highly likely that supporters of Brain Typing, when confronted with evidence that Brain Typing does not work as advertised, will contort the evidence in order to maintain the belief in the efficacy of Brain Typing.
Communal reinforcement. Most people congregate with people of similar tastes, attitudes, and experiences. Individuals with conservative political views do not generally seek out people with liberal views with whom to spend time. People with strong religious attitudes are usually more comfortable with others who share their faith. While this propensity is important for maintaining our personal connections that validate who we are it unfortunately blinds us to other points of view that differ from ours. In extreme cases, community reinforcement polarizes opposing perceptions of the world. Those who gather around the banner of Brain Typing will likely find comfort in others who are inclined to believe in its efficacy while scoffing at scientists who can find no evidence of its validity. Unfortunately, the stronger the communal reinforcement from other athletes, the more resistance there will be toward accepting any scientific evidence that does not offer evidence for the claims of Brain Typing.
Cake Eating. I have named this principle after the expression “You cannot have your cake and eat it too” because pseudoscience wants to be able to embrace science only when it is helpful, while willfully tossing it aside when it no longer serves a purpose for the pseudoscience. This is a common form of philosophical tap dancing wherein certain scientific principles are claimed in support of the pseudoscience but are later rejected when they interfere with specific elements of the pseudoscientific claims.
Niednagel is adept at doing this when he presents Jung and the MBTI as his philosophical and scientific foundations. On the one hand he says on his web site, “Brain Types is an offshoot of Jungian typology — and was created to overcome its various shortcomings. In recent years, Jungian typology has been popularized by the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI®) — a psychological assessment administered to thousands and thousands of people annually in America.” Any reasonable person would take this to mean that the effectiveness of Brain Types is the is a direct result of Jung’s philosophy and the scientific reliability and validity of the MBTI and that Niednagel still supports Jungian typology and the MBTI.
This is not the case. As quoted above, Niednagel says that he rejects “the ‘theories’ of Jung.” Nowhere does Niednagel explain how Brain Typing can be an effective offshoot of a rejected theory.
In addition, he discounts the importance the MBTI with the words, “Nevertheless, since it [MBTI] relies on a self-reporting questionnaire, the results are often incorrect.” The only supporting evidence for this opinion of why the MBTI is “often incorrect” is a quote from the temperament/typology guru David Kiersey: “My guess is that the various Jungian instruments — MBTI . . . — are wrong about half the time, which is to say they misclassify about every other person.”
This supporting evidence is typical of Niednagel’s non-scientific base and is symptomatic of how pseudoscience presents its case. In this example, Niednagel quotes a typology guru who “guesses” that the MBTI is wrong about half the time. No quantifiable evidence is presented, no criteria for “wrongness” are established, and no explanation is given for why the MBTI is wrong.
No matter that the MBTI is wrong half the time. Niednagel is careful to retain the sixteen typological categories of the MBTI while differing on how it is to be administered. Rather than have an athlete complete the standard paper-and-pencil form of the MBTI, Niednagel believes he can get more accuracy from merely observing the person in action — “Brain Typing is the most accurate and applicable typology today.” He continues to tout his accuracy of Brain Typing based on his lucky, 50%, guess of Peyton Manning being a better NFL choice than Ryan Leaf — “the choice between Ryan Leaf and Peyton Manning was a no-brainer for Niednagel.” The reason it was a no-brainer is because it was a 50-50 choice, a coin toss. This was four years ago. If Niednagel’s pick was so prophetic and accurate, why have there not been any more such successful stories when NFL teams face these types of choices every draft season? Where is the scorecard?
One wonders about the motivation for discounting the MBTI while simultaneously promoting his alternative, Brain Typing. This is also a common form of advertising. If a business person wants to sell a product in a saturated market (“Over a million MBTIs given each year”), it can be effective to show that the older, more established product is no longer what the public needs. It needs to be old fashioned, out of date, and not meeting people’s needs. Enter the new, improved product, Brain Typing.
Occam’s Razor. A strong foundation in contemporary science is the principle that our explanations for understanding something should not be more complicated than what we are trying to understand. This means that our explanation for how to open a door should be simpler than our explanation for how to split the atom.
This principle has also been called both the principle of parsimony and the principle of unnecessary plurality (Carroll, 2002). When dealing with pseudoscience, it is important to keep in mind the phrase, “Extraordinary claims demand extraordinary proof.” People who claim a scientific basis for what they promote but violate this principle are usually in the pseudoscientific camp.
This is one of the most glaring mistakes Niednagel makes with his Brain Typing claim. The phenomenon of Brain Typing is complicated because it involves predicting athletic ability based on Jung’s typology and the use of the Myers-Briggs personality categories. All three of these components are extraordinary. Predictions, overall, are difficult and tricky. Any method for doing so must have rigorous and undeniable evidence that the prediction method is accurate over time and in many settins. Testimonials can never be considered extraordinary whether dealing with alien abduction, herbal remedies, urban legends, or Brain Typing. Yet, the testimonial is the only evidence that Niednagel has to support Brain Typing. Furthermore, the idea of personality and its measurement has been studied vigorously for decades with little success. Basing the legitimacy of Brain Typing on the idea that personality typology is legitimate because Jung (“who was a brilliant man”) said so, is nothing more than a scholastic appeal to authority. Similarly, even though the MBTI may be the most popular personality test in existence, this fact lends it no more credibility than believing that the National Inquirer is the most credible newspaper just because it has a higher circulation than the New York Times.
Brain Typing as Cold Reading
Why are so many people taken by the pronouncements of Niednagel? A clue can be found on his website: “(Steve) Lavin, then an assistant to Harrick, asked Niednagel to observe a Bruin practice session and offer his opinions . . . Three hours later, Harrick had decided Niednagel must be a psychic” (Niednagel, 2002i).
The comparison of Niednagel to a psychic may be one of the more accurate statements on his website.
Psychics make their descriptions and predictions of other people through a technique called cold reading. This technique is the same method used by professional magicians — and fortunetellers — who specialize in a form of magic known as mentalism. Cold reading is a style of telling someone something about themself that seems impossible to know. Sometimes the cold reader will use simple props that are given credit for the success of the cold reading. People have used a variety of props over the years: taro cards, crystal ball, mystical symbols, runes, and personality tests.
Cold reading is an art that began with human communication. Though people can be born with a talent for cold reading, it can also be taught and learned by anyone who has a moderate amount of insight into human behavior. People who use cold reading professionally can join the Psychic Entertainers Association (Psychic Entertainers Association, 2002). Books and other resources are readily available for those who want to perfect the craft of cold reading, i.e., Tradecraft: The Art and Science of Cold Reading (“Trickshop Home Page,” 1996).
To the uninitiated, cold reading, appears puzzling, as seen in the above reference about Niednagel’s similarity to a psychic. Yet, there is nothing mystical about the skill and why it so effective. In 1948, a psychologist by the name of B.R. Forer decided to see how this worked. As a college teacher, he decided to give a “personality test” to his students, telling them they would get personalized results after he scored the test. Instead of scoring the test, he gave each student his or her test results that he made up from a newspaper horoscope. Unbeknownst to each student, the feedback was identical. When asked to assess the accuracy of the personalized results — without knowing any one else’s results — each student overwhelmingly believed the personality test was highly accurate. The class average for scoring the feedback was 4.26 (on a scale of one to five). In other words, although each student was quite different from all others in the classroom, they believed that the identical results fit them accurately.
What became known as the Forer Effect has been replicated hundreds of times (the results averaging around 4.2). This effect states that people tend to accept generalized statements about themselves without realizing they would “accurately” describe almost anyone. Furthermore, the more positive the statements, the more people tend to accept them. This phenomenon has been studied so often, it is even referred to by other names such as subjective validation and the P.T. Barnum Effect.
This explains why people are so impressed with Niednagel and his Brain Typing prop. He gives them enough positive, but ambiguous, information for them to be influenced by the Forer Effect.
Ray Hyman — psychologist, magician, and student of cold reading — identified thirteen traits a practitioner of cold reading can develop to appear credible and continue to convince people he has extraordinary powers. His article, Cold reading: How to convince strangers that you know all about them, delineates what makes cold reading effective (Hyman, 1977). He stresses that if a person follows these thirteen simple guidelines, he or she can convince others of their mysterious gift.
By observing how Niednagel operates his Brian Typing Institute, one can easily see that he may unknowingly rely on the technique of cold reading to convince so many athletes of his abilities. The following are the principles enumerated by Hyman.
1. Remember that the key ingredient of a successful character reading is confidence. This is a quality Niednagel shares with other product pitchmen. When asked on the ESPN show, Outside the Lines, if he had ever been wrong in using his Brain Typing product, he emphatically declared, with a smile, “No.”
2. Make creative use of the latest statistical abstracts, polls and surveys. Niednagel uses a variation of this guideline — the testimonial. His web site displays 21 up-to-date testimonials that speak glowingly of the benefits of Brain Typing.
3. Set the stage for your reading by getting the subject’s cooperation in advance. This procedure is built into the process of Brain Typing. As with most product gurus, Niednagel is in the enviable position of having people (supplicants?) come to him. The moment a person contacts Niednagel for a Brain Typing reading, Niednagel has that person’s cooperation.
4. Use a gimmick, such as Tarot cards, crystal ball, palm reading. The gimmick used by Niednagel is the MBTI typology. Although as worthless as tarot cards and crystal balls, the mere existence of the “most popular personality test” strengthens his product pitch.
5. Take credit for all your hits, near hits, and make believe hits, working hard to ignore the misses. Niednagel uses this guideline very effectively. He continues to stockpile accolades of coaches and athletes who praise the worth of Brain Typing. Nevertheless, this number of people who find Brain Typing valuable is an extremely small portion of all athletes and coaches. Surely, if an impartial survey were taken of all people associated with sports, there is a possibility that more people would be unimpressed with Brain Typing than the number of people who have found it a benefit.
6. Have a list of stock phrases at the tip of your tongue. Niednagel excels at using the language of sports and science. His web is peppered with words and phrases such as, “competitive advantage,” “scientific validation,” “cutting edge,” “optimal development and success,” and “accessing the ‘zone.’”
7. Keep your eyes open! We do not yet have any direct evidence that Niednagel follows this guideline. However, the indirect evidence suggests he does. Some people are born with an ability to see and understand things better than the average person. Psychics are often called “sensitives” and have an inherent ability to size up people quickly, listen carefully and tell people what they want to hear. In other words, they keep their eyes, and ears, open. It would not be difficult to believe that Niednagel has an inherent ability for being a good judge of talent, similar to that of a sports scout. By itself, this would not be enough to account for his success. By enveloping this possibly innate ability with something mysterious and scientific, he can impress others that he has something they need but don’t have.
8. Use the technique of fishing. The typical cold reader listens carefully to her client and then gives back this information later in a somewhat different format. The clients are often amazed that the cold reader “knows” so much about them. We do not yet know if he uses this guideline.
9. Learn to be a good listener. Again we have no direct evidence but the indirect evidence suggests that Niednagel might be a good listener. Having been associated with MLM, we know that Niednagel has sales and marketing experience. One basic rule of sales is to be a good listener. Niednagel is more than likely an excellent listener.
10. Dramatize your reading. All good cold readers have a bit of the theatrical about them, though it might be subtle. What makes Niednagel’s product presentation dramatic is the setting. In this society, sports has extremely high status. The mere fact that he name drops famous athletes and has his picture taken in the presence of professional athletes makes his cold readings dramatic.
11. Always give the impression that you know more than you are saying. This guideline is carefully followed by Niednagel when he insists that he is a sports scientist and is conducting research. He speaks of his work in genetics, his familiarity with personality types, and the hint that many other scientists support his work. As we have already noticed, he has not presented an evidence to back up these claims of proficiency.
12. Don’t be afraid to flatter your subject at every opportunity. Again we have no direct evidence that Niednagel follows this guideline but as a former salesman, he would certainly be able to do this if the occasion demanded. He comes across on television as charming and personable. Additionally, most people, if found in the presence of a professional, would not hesitate to flatter that person.
13. Remember the Golden Rule — always tell the subject what he or she wants to hear! Believing that Niednagel does not follow this guideline would be difficult. When faced with the excitement of a youngster next to his proud father, would Niednagel tell them that his son should give up sports because he does not have the correct Brain Type? By his own admission, Niednagel can use all sixteen Brain Types to justify some type of athletic talent.
This paper has attempted to look at only a few of the aspects of Jonathan Niednagel’s Brain Typing. There are so many problems with Brain Typing that cannot be addressed in this short paper: issues in neurology, personality assessment, performance enhancement, genetics, to name a few. Hopefully, other scientists will be able to examine the many claims made by Jonathan P. Niednagel.
Niednagel claims to be a sport scientist who can predict the best course for an athlete to take. He bases this on his revised version of the Myers-Briggs and tries to convince people that his enterprise is empirically based. What he really does is to sell a product in the same way he sold real estate and multi-level marketing ideas. He is very good at what he does. Niednagel is intelligent, competent, convincing but totally naive about what science is all about. He does not realize that using scientific words and collecting testimonials do not a science make.
Niednagel constantly demands that he is scientifically based. This insistence exposes him to the charge of fostering pseudoscience. He meets all the criteria for this enterprise and the more he insists he is doing science, the more secure his hold on pseudoscience becomes.
Designing a valid test to evaluate the effectiveness of Brain Typing would be simple. Niednagel could hire several experimental psychologists and neurophysiologists to test his claims from a variety of angles. To do so, his would have to allow his claims to be falsifiable and to be subjected to the skeptical scrutiny of scientists. If he passed these tests, he would gain considerable respect and would receive worldwide acclamation.
His successes — as reported by himself — are the result of cold reading techniques that Niednagel may not be aware of doing. The accolades he receives from his clients look similar to the comments one makes in the presence of a talented mentalist magician — how does he do it? The answer was given many years ago by a stellar businessman by the name of P.T. Barnum.
About the Author
Dr. Sandbek works with people who have many kinds of problems such as
phobias, eating disorders, and depression. He is the author of the book, The
Deadly Diet and is currently working on another self help book which will
show people how to stop worrying. He is a licensed clinical psychologist, a
licensed marriage and family counselor, and a credentialed school
He has a B.A. in mathematics from North Dakota State University, and an M.A.
in psychology from Pepperdine University. At Fuller Theological Seminary he
received his Ph.D. in clinical psychology and an M.A. in theological
studies. He completed a clinical clerkship at Orange County Medical Center
and finished his APA approved clinical internships at Sutter Memorial
Hospital in Sacramento and Stockton State Hospital.
Dr. Sandbek has presented professional papers at most major psychological
conventions and is often sought by college and university professors as a
guest speaker for classes. He has appeared on many radio and television talk
shows including the Oprah Winfrey show and has been featured on national PM
Magazine for his work with eating disorders.
He is Director of The California Clinic in Sacramento. For ten years he was
the Director of Cognitive Therapy for Sierra Vista Hospital. Lately, he has
been a Behavior Analysis consultant for residential treatment programs
specializing in Severely Emotionally Disturbed children. Over the years he
has applied his knowledge of Sport Psychology to helping individual athletes
enhance their performance in such diverse areas as golf, ice skating and
competitive sail planing.
Dr. Sandbek is an avid reader when he is not searching for galaxies with his
telescope. Having lived in Japan, he is a student of the martial arts and is
currently the holder of a brown belt in Aikido and a black belt in Shotokan
karate. He is also a member of the Sacramento chapter of the Society of
American Magicians and plays trombone in a swing style big band. He is the
president and founder of the Sacramento Skeptics Society.
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