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Applied Kinesiology

William T. Jarvis, Ph.D.

Applied Kinesiology (AK) (also known as Contact Reflex Analysis, Dental Kinesiology, or Behavioral Kinesiology) is a procedure in which resistance-response (aka, "muscle strength testing") explorations of an extended arm or leg is "tested" while a person is subjected to various influences (foods, vitamins, herbs, homeopathic remedies, music, colors, etc.). Weak responses are interpreted as "bad," and strong responses as "good." These form the basis for making diagnoses, prescriptions, food selections, or other health-related choices. Note: AK is not part of the science of kinesiology (the study of the principles of mechanics and anatomy in relation to human movement).

AK has been associated with a number of cases of serious harm. A New York chiropractor used it to demonstrate alleged improvements in learning disabled children [1,2]. The physical and psychological damage done to the kids by his treatments resulted in a $565,000 jury award [3]. On the instructions of a holistic dentist, AK was employed as a way of testing the "purity" of foods by the family of a diabetic who died while trying to substitute vitamins for insulin. His wife (an RN!) refused to accept the reality of his death keeping his mummified body in the house for 8-years [4]. The technique was used by a clinical ecologist to tell a mother that her children were not allergic to peanuts with the result that when given peanut butter their allergic reactions nearly killed them. He eventually lost his license to practice medicine for employing nonscientific techniques [5]. AK was used by an Arizona chiropractor to assure a patient that she did not have cancer [6]. She subsequently died due to lack of treatment. He was suspended from practice [7].

Controlled studies of AK muscle-testing have repeatedly shown that responses are random under conditions where both the tester and test subject are unaware of the substance being tested [8-10], but the AK experience can be very persuasive under uncontrolled conditions because people can definitely feel the differences in responses. The subjective experience can be overwhelming and turns many patients into believers. AK's originator, chiropractor George Goodheart, [11] organized the International College of Applied Kinesiology (ICAK) in an effort to gain some control over the practice and its claims. Goodheart once expressed skepticism about using AK to choose one's personal lucky star (subjects were tested while pointing at various candidate stars). Over time, ICAK has become more conservative in its claims for AK and subsequently stated that it is not valid used by itself [12].

Explanations of what is actually happening in AK responses include trickery by practitioners, who may vary the point of contact on the lever (arm or leg) thus improving their mechanical advantage whenever they want to obtain a weak response; or, who catch the subject off-guard to elicit weakness versus telegraphing the test thus allowing a split-second for the subject to prepare their response. However, having studied AK extensively, I believe that it is a mistake to dismiss all AK practitioners as tricksters. Some may be fooling themselves through the uncontrolled use of a potentially useful psychological assessment tool. Just as Mesmerism unwittingly exploited the power of suggestion -- the same potent psychophysiologic phenomenon of clinical hypnosis -- AK might provide a way to test psychological make-up of subjects (eg, conditioning, expectation, suggestibility or other personality factors). On the other hand, AK could turn out to be unreliable or not as good as other tests now in use. I don't know of anyone who is studying AK scientifically to find any valid use.


  1. Ferreri C, Dyslexia and learning disorders cured, Health Freedom News 10/83
  2. Cooke, The Crescent City cure, Hippocrates Nov-Dec, 1988.
  3. Ludlow L. Del Norte jury puts squeeze on chiropractor, San Francisco Examiner 1/29/91.
  4. Smith W (Chicago Tribune), "Body kept mummified for 8-1/2 years connected to Chicago health cult, York Daily Record, Feb 14, 1989.
  5. Dr. Korman misconduct report Ontario College of Physicians & Surgeons, Feb. 1989.
  6. Deal S. Detect cancer muscle tests, Cancer News J. 1976:10:(6)
  7. Chiropractor's license to be suspended in cancer-complaint case [Sheldon Deal, DC] Az Daily Star 2/23/84.
  8. Freidman, Applied kinesiology--double-blind pilot study, J Prosthetic Dent 1981;45:321-3.
  9. Triano. Muscle strength testing as a diagnostic screen for supplemental nutr therapy: a blind study, J Manipulative & Physiological Therapeutics, 1982;5:179-82.
  10. Kenney J. Applied Kinesiology unreliable for assessing nutr status, J Am Diet Assoc, 1988;88:698
  11. McCord. Applied Kinesiology: an historical overview, Digest Chiro Economics 9-10/91.
  12. Applied Kinesiology Status Statement, International College of Applied Kinesiology--USA, 6/16/92.

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Tte: article was posted on December 1, 2000.